While public transportation may not be the first thing one thinks of as a factor in nationwide inequality, it has more issues than may meet the eye.
Access to adequate transportation is a crucial factor in economic mobility, as several of the mechanisms of economic progress — jobs, quality food, well-priced goods, health care and school — all depend on efficient and accessible transportation.
Indeed, a study done by Harvard University found a correlation between geographic and economic mobility, while a 2014 New York University study concluded that in New York City, low access to public transportation was connected to increased unemployment and lower income.
These issues especially affect people with disabilities, who already experience difficulties with transportation access. In addition, in areas with no public transportation, transportation options for people with disabilities are sparse.
For example, in rural communities, lack of funding has caused people with disabilities to have practically no access to transportation. These issues are prominent in urban areas as well; despite access to taxis, there is very lopsided mobility.
However, there is also much room for optimism, as the data shows that the inverse is also true. In other words, if transportation issues exacerbate poverty, transportation improvements reduce poverty. The same Harvard study found that “The relationship between transportation and social mobility is stronger than that between mobility and several other factors, like crime, elementary-school test scores or the percentage of two-parent families in a community.”
This is actually quite encouraging, as it shows how substantial the impact of improving public transportation on mobility can be.
Here are two main ways to achieve these goals. The first is for people who already have reasonable access to public transportation and other related modes of transportation to use them more often when possible. The second is to advocate and work with members of the government and relevant organizations in order to increase investment in public transportation across the country.
While some may point to the cost of public transportation, I argue that the benefits are far too impactful to pass up. Investment in public transportation may be costly, but it has the potential to pay significant dividends.
For example, a report done by C40, a network of cities working towards climate change action, found that “Every $1 invested in public transport could generate $5 in economic returns, while every $1 billion invested could create 50,000 jobs.”
It is a difficult reality that access to transportation has had such an effect on what is readily available to people, whether it be jobs, affordable products or otherwise. When individuals are seeking to fulfill their needs and goals, transportation should be one of the last things they have to think about as opposed to one of their first considerations.
Improving transportation is simple, but its benefits will be far-reaching.
Rakesh Peddibhotla PZ ’24 is from Fremont, CA. He enjoys learning about issues of social justice and international relations, as well as playing the trombone and singing.