Improving public transportation will help narrow the income gap

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As the bridges, tunnels, highways and railways across the United States increasingly deteriorate, the country is in dire need of an infrastructure overhaul. Improvements to public transportation and increased access, especially in urban areas, must be included. This will help bolster the country’s public resources and, more critically, increase economic opportunities for low income individuals.

In order for people to have access to economic opportunities and the potential for upward socioeconomic mobility, it is critical for them to be able to get around. Low-income Americans who are unable to afford a car should not be punished for an inability to get around using their own means. Instead, they should be afforded the opportunity to move around by providing geographically extensive and affordable public transportation.

Geographic mobility is directly linked to economic mobility correlating to economic success. A study found that low access to public transit caused higher unemployment rates in New York City. Large cities such as New York City and Los Angeles must expand their public transportation infrastructure in order to increase economic opportunity and help close the wealth inequality seen across the country. 

Part of the accessibility problem is caused by cities focusing resources in the wrong places. 69% of all public bus riders have household income levels below $50,000. As bus transportation gets so little investment proportionally, other forms of public transit with lower ridership numbers and more affluent demographics such as light rail receive more of the funding. It is clear that federal, state and local governments are neglecting the mode of public transportation that is used by the people who need it the most.

Meanwhile, cities are investing heavily in alternative modes of public transportation such as bike shares. Bike shares are often placed in affluent neighborhoods, as they have become a ‘trendy’ way to travel. They also often require a credit card to use, which prevents poorer groups who may not have access to lines of credit from being able to use the bikes. A recent study in Washington, D.C. found that over 50% of users of their bike system had incomes of above $100,000.

Furthermore, accessibility is limited by cost. A USC survey found that between 30 to 40% of L.A. metro riders missed some sort of an activity in 2019 because of transportation costs. In order to increase accessibility to public transportation for low income groups, funds should be increased for the method used most: public bussing. 

This can be done through increasing budgets for regional public transit systems or by redirecting funds away from bikeshares and railways to busses. Higher funding will allow cities to provide more bus routes and increase subsidization of public busses so that it is more affordable for income groups that rely on public transit to get to work.

Urban areas including L.A. must improve their public transportation to better the country’s infrastructure and thus the economy. Local and state governments need to work to ensure public transportation systems are easily accessible and affordable for the people that need it most in their everyday lives. The federal government must ensure in their next infrastructure bill that they recognize the importance of public transportation systems to the nation’s largest metropolises and fund them accordingly.