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How Transit Creates a Two-Tiered Transportation System in America

Transit is not providing what many travelers need, in terms of both location and service. The result is that transit use is a time and financial burden for those who can least afford it.
February 13, 2019, 12pm PST | Camille Fink
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Joseph P. Williams takes a closer look at the challenges of commuting by transit, particularly for low-income riders and those traveling from areas where service is lacking. Transit can be a time-consuming and costly mode for people who have difficulty accessing it or are dependent on unreliable systems.

Williams draws from his own experience when he found himself several years ago unemployed and living without a car in an upscale suburb of Washington, D.C., where buses only ran twice an hour and were often not on schedule. "Besides fighting through the common frustrations every commuter experiences, riders from transit deserts must deal with the aggravation of possibly missing the bus and enduring a long wait for the next one," says Williams. 

He adds that transit systems in cities such as Washington, D.C., and New York are in dire need of maintenance, and ridership has dropped as service quality has decreased. "People who can afford to are voting with their wallets: buying cars, using alternative transportation services like Uber, or moving closer to the city to cut down on their commutes, in the process driving up housing costs and adding to traffic congestion," notes Williams.

But many transit-dependent riders cannot make such shifts, and fare increases and service cuts make transit use even more difficult. "Those twin costs of time and money add up across the income spectrum: White-collar workers like [Carrie] Blough have to run faster and longer just to stay in place, while [Karen] Allen and other hourly-wage employees who want to get ahead have to fight against bigger financial and logistical burdens," writes Williams.

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Published on Tuesday, January 29, 2019 in The Nation
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