Saturday, October 10, 2015

Transit as Charity: Cost-Burdened Households and Transportation

So let's talk about charity.  For the sake of argument, let's say transit is straight-up charity and social service, that no one uses transit who has a choice.

AAA: Your Driving Costs 2015
Owning and driving a car is expensive. Here's this year's estimate from AAA.

Even an old clunker still requires maintenance, licensing, fuel, and insurance. A useful transit system, not to speak of even a fareless system, that makes it easy not to own a car is practically like cash in your pocket, a big boost in a strapped household - or homeless family.

Car ownership and transportation is a huge drain on household budgets.

In a draft Housing Needs Assessment report, the City found that nearly 40% of Salem households live in "cost-burdened" arrangements, with 30% or more of family gross income spent on housing.

If you asked clients of charities what they would like, a minimally functional and even robust transit system probably would rank high on the list of useful things.  Taking a meaningful chunk out of transportation expenses frees up money for housing or other choices a family might make.

And if you don't assume that transit is straight-up charity or social service, if you assume that good transit is more like a utility for all, for those with discretionary income, a lower-car life means more income that can be spent locally on goods and services.

Considered straight-up as charity, if companies have a choice between allocating $3000 to transit or $3000 to Extreme Home Makeover - really, is it that difficult to assess which impacts more people in need and better serves the community?

Rich Duncan Construction


Anonymous said...

I support the measure but see some problems in your analysis. Yes the cost of owning a car is high. But many of those cost like depreciation, insurance, title and registration are fixed to some degree because they don't go down the less you drive. That is why it is difficult to justify letting the car sit in the driveway and not have the utility benefit from spending that money. I do feel that I "need" (or very intensely want) a car to be happy in Salem (or at least tolerate it).

I think that if you dig into the literature you will find that economic mobility is increased more with care ownership than with transit service. Simply put, if you give one poor person a car and another a bus pass (or better service), all other things being equal, the one who gets the car has a better chance of getting out of poverty than the one who gets the transit pass. That correlation is stronger in suburban/exurban places like Salem.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

I suppose you are thinking of things like this, "Why the poor need better access to cars."

From that piece:

"Families with cars in the Moving to Opportunity program were twice as likely to find a job and four times as likely to stay employed, a finding that's consistent with another common reality for the low-income: Unreliable transportation is one of the primary reasons why they lose their jobs. Both car and transit access had a positive effect on earnings, although the effect was much larger for car ownership.

All of these findings are as much a reflection on the value of cars as the relatively poor state of public transit. The underlying issue also isn't so much that cars create opportunity. Rather, it's that we've created many places where you can't access opportunity without a car. Which also means that we've created places that punish people who don't have one (or can't afford to get one). That's a much larger critique.

From the standpoint here, improving transit is part of the larger project of remaking Salem as a place that no longer punishes people for not having a car.

Sure, if the choice is between crappy transit and a car, a car may well be more valuable. But the choice between good transit and a car is not so obvious.

Unknown said...

There is a downside to car driving that does not get mentioned enough. That is the stress caused by driving a car. For example, I know when I am driving on I-5 it is hugely stressful. There are cars zipping around me passing, people driving at 70-75 MPH weaving through traffic. Driving in the city there is the constant worry that someone will pull out in front of you or stop in abruptly. Stress is a non-quantifiable cost of driving a vehicle.

I spent the summer last year travelling around the UK and Ireland. I traveled almost exclusively on local transit and coaches. It was nice to just get on the coach and not have to worry until I arrived at my destination. The way they do transit in Europe is much better than how we do it in the United States.

Personally I would love to be able to live without a car. However that is almost impossible in Salem because of the sprawl.

It is not just mass transit, walking in Salem is also unpleasant if not downright dangerous in places. For example, where I live is only about 1 mile from the nearest grocery store, a Fred Meyer, however getting there involves walking on a busy street, Market, walking underneath an 1-5 overpass where people regularly ignore the crosswalks.

For me livability and walkability are very closely linked. If we want Salem to be a good place to live then we need a change in priorities from the current car oriented policies. This is especially important because it seems like my generation (millennials) are more interested in alternatives to cars than perhaps earlier generations were.

Anonymous said...

Though it doesn't address your car vs. transit question, a piece the SJ just posted addresses transportation.

"In January, people in Marion and Polk counties who were experiencing homelessness were asked what services they needed most. The top four answers were housing, food, transportation and dental care.

It was the first time local social service agencies asked the question as part of the Homeless Count, an annual effort to count and interview all of the homeless residents in Marion and Polk counties at a single time. The count is required for the counties to receive nearly $1 million in grants from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development....

Sixty-four percent of respondents to the street survey said they needed housing assistance, compared with 43 percent who said housing would improve their current situation. Forty-three percent said they needed food, compared with 1.6 percent who said food assistance would improve their situation. Forty percent of respondents said they needed help with transportation, compared with 8 percent who said transportation would improve their situation."

Emily said...

An interesting finding for this discussion: this study suggests that the costs of owning and maintaining a car may be greater than the income gains associated with in-creased car ownership."

Emily said...

Sorry, "suggests that...ownership" is a quote from the abstract. I missed the first quotation marks.

Salem Breakfast on Bikes said...

Thanks for the links and comment!

(Anon 1 - do you have additional literature in mind that has not been referenced here? Citations are always helpful!)