How Can Transportation Alleviate Poverty?
Katie Kurfurst

April 11, 2018

Growing up without a car in Section 8 housing outside of Seattle, I know firsthand how inadequate transit options can impact low-income communities. If you don’t have a car, which an estimated 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 turned a late night grocery trip into a choice between walking 2 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,” and those households are 6.8 times more likely to not have a car. With housing costs rising in city centers, lower-income people are moving to the suburbs. While remote areas have lower housing costs, it comes with the 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 so 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, reliable, and 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, bank appointments, healthcare providers, good schools, and employers. For every dollar communities invest in transit, approximately $4 is generated in economic returns.

So, 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 communities around Seattle access over 200 routes on buses, Link light rail, Sounder trains, Seattle Streetcars, and King County Water Taxis.

At Ventures, we provide a comprehensive toolbox of resources to equip low-income entrepreneurs to build bridges out of poverty by launching their own small businesses. 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 ORCA LIFT card is one of the newest resources in our toolbox.

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