Public transportation should play an important role in improving the lives of the less well off
One of the primary roles of mass transit is to assure mobility for all; by offering transportation at a reasonable price, accessible to everyone, buses and trains serve as a redistributive tool and reduce inequalities in our society. But politics and economics make the goal of universal mobility something less than a reality. Though a $2 subway ride may be cheap enough for most, there is no doubt that even the smallest savings in transportation expenses can improve the quality of life of the poorest individuals.
Consider how the transit systems in five cities — two in Europe and three in the United States — discount their transit fares for the benefit of people who cannot easily pay full charge:
|Cities adjust their transit fares to meet varied needs
|Children||Free (0-10 years)||Free (0-3 years)||Free (<44″ tall)||Free (0-4 years)||Free (0-6 years)|
|Grade school||Free (bus/tram); 1/2 fare (rail)||1/5 to 1/2 fare (income-based)||Free (3 trips/day)||1/2 fare||1/3 fare|
|Elderly||Free (60+ years)||Free (60+ years)||1/2 fare (65+ years)||1/2 fare (65+ years)||Free (65+ years)|
|Disabled||Free||Free||1/2 fare||1/2 fare||Free|
|University students||3/5 fare||1/5 to 1/2 fare (under 26 years)||—||—||—|
|In poverty / unemployed
||1/2 fare (bus/tram)||Free 3 months, then 1/2 fare||—||—||—|
||—||1/2 fare (3+ children)||—||—||—|
The chart demonstrates that while these three U.S. transit systems provide advantageous fares to children, the elderly, and the disabled, they largely ignore the needs of impoverished adults. On the other hand, London and Paris provide generous discounts for university students, people in poverty, and the unemployed. In addition, London provides free passes for veterans and their dependents, while Paris offers relief for families with large numbers of children. In both cities’ cases, significant subsidies are provided to the transit operators by local and national governments to make up for lost revenue as a result of these discounts.
It would be difficult to argue that transportation should be reserved for only those who can afford it, and therefore fare schemes that incorporate the needs of the poorest are necessary. Not only should we be pushing vigorously for more transit, but we should be asking for cheaper transit, at least for those without good-paying jobs.
To those who suggest that providing free or cheaper rides to the destitute would result in the permanent occupation of our transportation networks by the uncouth, look only to these two European cities for evidence to the contrary. To those who argue that able-bodied adults have a responsibility to find the funds to pay for their transportation, I suggest that our country doesn’t provide as many opportunities as we often claim it does. Even those who work minimum-wage jobs — consenting to our government’s rabid mission to get people off welfare — spend too much of their limited incomes paying to get around.
In this time of mass unemployment and reduced incomes all around, we must work to reduce fares for people who cannot always afford the mobility options transit offers.
A society is only as strong as are its least fortunate.