How Can Transportation Alleviate Poverty?
Katie Kurfurst

April 11, 2018

Transit can be the difference between having a business idea and having a business launch.

I know firsthand how poor transit options can impact low-income communities. I grew up without a car in low-income housing outside of Seattle. If you don’t have a car, which 94% of welfare recipients don’t, then you have to rely on public transit, bikes, or your own two feet. For my family and neighbors, it turned simple trips into treks:

  • It turned a one way 4.5 miles, 15-minute drive into a two hour and three bus commute to a minimum wage job.
  • It cut the income from working three jobs in half from paying for taxis to get to each of them on time.
  • It made a late night grocery trip into a choice between walking two miles home with heavy grocery bags or spending an hour waiting for the bus when your kids are hungry and alone at home.

In Washington, 28% of residents live in or “near poverty.” Those households are 6.8 times more likely to not have a car. As housing costs rising in city centers and neighborhoods become gentrified, lower-income people are moving to the suburbs. While remote areas have lower housing costs, it comes at a price—less transit and economic activity. Even in Seattle, it can be time-consuming to travel East-West without a car but you can save up to $11,000 a year by not having one and taking the bus.

Why does public transit matter?

Poor public transportation limits opportunities and bars resources. It systematically creates and perpetuates inequality. Shorter commuting time is the single strongest factor in the odds of escaping poverty. With transit directly impacting social and economic well-being, expanding transit options can especially help low-income families, communities, and business owners.

“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.”

Access to safe, efficient transit can be the difference between having a business idea and having a business launch. A strong public transportation infrastructure grows the economy. It provides entrepreneurs with quick, affordable ways to get to city centers, government licensing offices, business meetings, banks, healthcare providers, good schools, and employers. For every dollar communities invest in transit, approximately $4 is generated in economic returns.

What are we doing to improve equity through access to better transit?

In our area, King County Metro has begun offering discounted ORCA cards (ORCA LIFT) to lower-income households. This can help people access over 200 routes on local buses, light rail, trains, streetcars, and water taxis.

At Ventures, we provide a comprehensive toolbox of resources to equip low-income entrepreneurs to build bridges out of poverty. Traditionally, we’ve done this through business training, capital, coaching and hands-on learning opportunities. Yet, we’ve overlooked the most important factor of economic mobility—affordable public transit for low-income entrepreneurs. 

The newest resources in our toolbox: ORCA LIFT.

Our partner, King County Metro‘s ORCA LIFT card is a new, reduced fare that can help you save 50% or more on transit. Learn about ORCA LIFT and see if you qualify. If you’ve enrolled in any of our programs, you’ll probably qualify to save up to 50% on your rides.