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When Low-Income Riders Get Reduced Fares, They Ride More Transit

A study from MIT seems to confirm that the cost of transit is depressing use of service by low-income residents, and that reduced fares help this population take the trips they currently don’t.
June 24, 2019, 6am PDT | Casey Brazeal | @northandclark
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A randomized trial of Boston commuters showed that low-income transit users are more likely to use transit when they received a discount. The study separated a group of transit users into a group that got a discount and one that didn’t. “Unsurprisingly, people who paid half price for transit fares used transit more often: the group that received the discounted CharlieCard took, on average, about 30% more trips per week than the control group paying full price,” Christian MilNeil writes for Streetsblog Massachusetts. The findings suggest that ridership by low-income transit riders is suppressed by the cost of using services.

Interestingly, the ridership habits of the subsidized groups varied somewhat from those of other riders. "While transit agencies might be concerned that offering a discounted fare to lower-income riders might increase crowding, the study’s data show that lower-income households (with and without the discount) were actually more likely to ride during off-peak times, especially in the early-morning hours before 7 a.m.," Milneil writes. The study's authors think if the agency were to subsidize low-income riders, most of the ridership gain would be on buses and trains that currently have capacity.

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Published on Monday, June 10, 2019 in Streetsblog Massachusetts
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