Mass Transit Is Good For Poor People

One of the odder conceits in transportation policy debates is the widespread view that somehow transportation alternatives are the exclusive province of fancy yuppies, while poor people are all cruising around enjoying parking subsidies. The truth, of course, is that both cars and gasoline are expensive:

According to the report, the average cost of owning a car is just shy of $9,500. That may not sound like much until you realize the federal poverty level is $22,350 for a family of four. One-third of low-income African-American households do not have access to an automobile. That figure is 25 percent among low-income Latino families and 12.1 percent for whites. Racial minorities are four times more likely than whites to use public transit to get to work.

Yet the federal government allocates 80 percent of its transportation funding to highways.

It’s important to see that this isn’t just a question of direct spending priorities. Just about every city in America also delivers implicit subsidies to automobile driving by requiring all new construction to involve minimum quantities of parking. It’s even common for many municipalities to directly operate taxpayer-subsidized parking lots and parking garages. In a sensible world, we’d do the reverse, leaving parking unsubsidized and taxing traffic congestion. That would, among other things, greatly increase the speed of bus travel, which would be a boon to low-income people.