- Author: Smart Growth America
- Date: January 21, 2020
This post was written by Smart Growth America. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and not the…
Later this year, Washington D.C. will launch a pilot program providing free & reduced price SmarTrip transit passes for a portion of low-income residents. But is this the right move?
Experimenting with Mobility
Starting in the summer of 2020, a research pilot headed by the Lab @ DC will track up to 2,500 low-income D.C. residents as they are randomly assigned to groups receiving free, reduced-price, or regularly priced fares. The aim is to collect data on these groups to determine the impact of subsidized transportation on the well-being & mobility of residents with limited incomes. Of the 2,500 residents taking part, all will receive some manner of social assistance, giving them initial access to the program. The WMATA board approved the full pilot in December.
Current Low-Income Fare Programs
Similarly-sized transit agencies have fully-fledged programs in operation, benefiting people of limited incomes through free or discounted fares. Multiple larger transit agencies, as this 2018 Streetsblog compilation shows, offer discounted fare programs for very low-income riders. Within other transit agencies, a number of programs exist:
These programs have different eligibility requirements, certification processes and subsidization levels, yet all give some financial relief to those often hit hardest by the high cost of transportation in the United States: those with limited incomes.
While D.C. plans to experiment with the cost of transit for low-income residents (with quality of life & mobility as the dependent variable), a recent study in Boston by MIT shows programs like these to already be a success. When given half-priced CharlieCard transit passes, low-income riders used transit more and transferred between rail & bus lines more often than those in the study paying full price. Simply, mobility increased for the most vulnerable when the cost of movement was lessened. When transit agencies experiment with programs to help people with limited incomes, mobility management practitioners have an opportunity to advocate for implementation of programs that will benefit their clients. Some transit agencies, such as those listed above, already have fairer fares programs in operation, understanding that lessened mobility cost leads to greater mobility. Advancing economic vitality and self-sufficiency is a key part of mobility management. Fairer fares is a strategy that will do just that.
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