Transportation as a Poverty Issue: Can Better Transportation Planning Improve Access to Better Jobs?

F2 logistics

Transportation planning has a huge impact on the lives of people in their communities. It determines many things: household expenditures, access to employment, where people choose to live, as well as economic opportunities. As poverty reduction strategies become more popular with provincial governments in Canada, transportation continues to remain the poor cousin with respect to many of these discussions. In Ontario’s current poverty-reduction initiative, transportation is not even mentioned.

However, the type, quality and availability of transportation services directly impacts on one’s access to basic necessities: education and employment, health care, social services, recreational activities, as well as access to visit with family and friends. Where one lives, as well as priority given by local or regional governments to provision of transportation services, makes a major difference in poverty-reduction strategy as well.

According to Todd Littman, of the Victoria Transport Policy Institute, the purpose of transportation planning is to achieve some form of equity for individuals that are “transportation disadvantaged”. Transportation disadvantage arises out of a number of factors, including but not exclusively, low income, non-driver or car-less status, disability, language barriers and isolation (in an accessible location).

A study quoted in Littman’s analysis shows that individuals or households that do not have access to a personal vehicle take up to 50% fewer trips. Further, transportation expenditures are highest as a portion of net (after tax) income for low-income families, indicating that transportation costs are regressive. This implies only if the household has access to a vehicle, but assumes access to public transportation and carpooling options. F2 logistics

In a chart provided with Littman’s report, households with incomes at or below $30,000 per year pay between 25 – 30% of after-tax income on various modes of transportation, which could include vehicle financing and operating expenses, public transit, taxis and other modes. In communities where public transit is poor to non-existent, these costs are very regressive and favour personal vehicle ownership. Those in car-dependent communities without a vehicle are forced to rely on others to drive them and in their absence, taxis (which are definitely not cheap!).

Further, access to a car in car-dependent communities substantially increases one’s access to employment. A study of welfare recipients in the state of Tennessee found that those who were given access to their own vehicles were more likely to become employed and leave welfare altogether within 18 – 24 months and stay off, while those without a car tended to stay on welfare longer (see Richards and Bruce, Centre for Business and Economic Research, University of Tennessee, June 2004).

Further when employed workers were compared with respect to car ownership and controlling for education levels, it was found that those who worked and had access to a personal vehicle worked on average nine hours more per week than those without, and their pay was roughly between $0.72 and $2.12 per hour higher than those without a car.

Further, when reviewing many of the employment-related barriers that low-income people have in Ontario, for example, transportation was identified as a major barrier in many surveys. Unfortunately, in communities outside the Greater Toronto Area or other large cities of a similar size, employers often require candidates to own their own car and have a valid driver’s license, something that is as accessible for families already in low-income situations. As part of any poverty-reduction strategy, the issue of transportation must play a larger role if we are ever going to assist people in escaping poverty.

Author: Marcellus