Bella Guagenti, '24
In the bustling city of D.C., transportation is a fundamental need. All actions taken throughout the day require somewhat of a commute, whether it is close by and reachable by walk or bike, or farther, requiring a bus or metro ride or a drive in the car. In August 2021, the price of used vehicles in the U.S. increased by 0.2 percent compared to July 2021, and prices are up 40 percent from 2020. These price increases, coupled with having to regularly pay for gas and even repairs, are simply unsustainable for low-income families. Unfortunately, for many of these same families, their communities have limited access to public transportation, thereby limiting easy access to jobs, food, and healthcare.
While there are many positives regarding public transportation—it creates approximately fifty thousand jobs for every one billion dollars invested, it is ten times safer to travel per mile than in a personal car, it saves the U.S. six billion gallons of gasoline annually, and it saves 93 percent of money spent on transportation (which is sixteen cents of every dollar earned)—it is also majorly inaccessible. In the U.S., about 47 percent of the population does not have access to public transportation. In D.C., 179,692 out of 332,367 commuters surveyed reported utilizing public transportation as opposed to taxis, carpooling, or driving. However, the locations of bus and metro stops are disproportionately in higher income areas of D.C. For example, on a map of metro stops in all of D.C., only five compared to over twenty-five stops are in Anacostia (not including Metro stations on state borders), and bus routes are much less abundant in low-income areas. If these cost-effective, eco-friendly transportation solutions cannot be utilized by all, is public transportation really public?
There really is no correct answer at the moment, as public transportation in D.C. is rapidly changing to accommodate new regulations regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. In June 2021, Metro board members announced an official decrease in fares which became active around Labor Day in order to incentivize the use of public transportation again. This decision to lower fare costs is accompanied by decreased wait times, increased hours of service, and the removal of bus and metro transfer fees, creating a more financially available and efficient public transportation system. A goal of these changes is to encourage travel equality since, according to a Metro study, the majority of Metrorail riders have higher incomes, while most Metrobus riders are lower income. By slowly equalizing the fare, low-income citizens are encouraged to utilize the Metrorail system.
Even though the current solution is not perfect, the actions taken by the Metro board are a huge step in the right direction in supporting low-income citizens in need of affordable transportation. With increased access to transportation, and therefore increased ease of access to healthcare, employment, and food, a decrease in the ever-growing socio-economic gap would not be unexpected. Public transportation is truly an opportunity to support the environmental wellbeing and safety of our D.C. community, as well as assisting low-income communities.