How Access to Cars Could Help the Poor

How Access to Cars Could Help the Poor

Efforts in Marin attempt to reduce car usage, concentrating new development into high density housing with limited parking and presuming residents take transit could have adverse effects on the economy – especially residents on low incomes, suppressing their abilities to access jobs.

Access to CarsThe study is called “Driving to Opportunity: Understanding the Links among Transportation Access, Residential Outcomes, and Economic Opportunity for Housing Voucher Recipients“. It is based on detailed analysis and peer reviewed reports by authors at UCLA and the University of Maryland exposes some critical factors that should be considered. The sample set is significant – 12,000 families across 10 different cities.

– Housing voucher recipients with cars tended to live and remain in higher-opportunity neighborhoods—places with lower poverty rates, higher social status, stronger housing markets, and lower health risks.

– Cars are also associated with improved neighborhood satisfaction and better employment outcomes.

– Among Moving to Opportunity families, those with cars were twice as likely to find a job and four times as likely to remain employed.

The report notes that cars are important in helping lower income residents secure and retain jobs as they have inherent benefit over public transport. Public transport is affected by:

– longer travel times
– insufficient metropolitan wide coverage (getting people door to door)

Access to Transit Does Not Improve Employment Prospects

Another 2003 study on the topic by Sanchez, Shen and Peng titled “Transit Mobility, Jobs Access and Low-income Labour Participation in US Metropolitan Areas” states:

“While policy-makers assert that increased public transit mobility can positively
affect employment status for low-income persons, there is little empirical evidence to support this
theory. It is generally assumed that public transit can effectively link unemployed, car-less,
persons with appropriate job locations—hence the call for more public transit services to assist
moving welfare recipients to gainful employment. Thus far, the available evidence is anecdotal,
while general patterns of transit access in relationship to labour participation remain relatively
unexplored. “

This study analyzed whether access to public transit had detectable impact on employment outcomes in Atlanta, Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Milwaukee and Portland. The study found that greater access to transit did not play a statistically significant role in improving access to employment

What Does this Mean?

It means that if in Marin we want to provide better access to employment for those on lower incomes we really need to get beyond dated and disproven thinking that this means providing better public transit. It disproves theories of providing transit-oriented “workforce housing”.

Together these studies reinforce the solutions advocated by Planning for Reality. We should be providing subsidized access to cars, for instance through ZipCar and / or Lyft vouchers – to help those on lower incomes access better opportunities. Should this be done to the exclusion of transit? No. But we surely could be achieving a better balance.