A Transport Justice Evaluation of Employer-Based Transit Subsidies

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Virginia Tech

National statistics regarding subsidized commuting suggest that employer-based transit subsidies may be inaccessible to the vast majority of the working poor. My main purpose with this study is to increase our understanding of employer-based transit subsidies from a transport justice perspective. I apply the theory of transport justice developed by Karel Martens to evaluate whether the provision of transit subsidies varies significantly by income, and whether the subsidies are significantly associated with accessibility as measured by daily trip levels. I use worker-level data from household travel surveys for 10 of the 22 largest MPOs in the U.S., organized into 7 cases: 1) Atlanta; 2) Baltimore and Washington, DC; 3) Denver; 4) Los Angeles and San Diego; 5) New York and Newark; 6) Philadelphia; and 7) San Francisco. In each of the 7 cases, the odds of being offered a transit subsidy were significantly lower for workers in the 1st income quintile compared to workers in the 4th and 5th income quintiles, even after controlling for other relevant worker and employer characteristics. I found a lack of evidence, in most cases, that transit subsidies are significantly associated with accessibility, both in terms of daily trip levels for low-income workers and daily trip differentials between income groups. Given my finding that low-income workers are the least likely to have access to employer-based transit subsidies, policymakers may consider reform alternatives, such as commuter benefit ordinances, a refundable tax credit for commuting expenses, or alternatives such as income- and location-based subsidies for transit that may support all trip purposes. I hope this study will serve as a reference for policymakers deliberating commuter benefit reforms as well as strategies to support affordable access to opportunities for the working poor.

commuter benefits, transport justice, household travel surveys, USA