Would increasing access to cars help people escape poverty?
Earlier this month, a study was released from the Urban Institute titled "Driving to Opportunity: Understanding the Links among Transportation Access, Residential Outcomes, and Economic Opportunity for Housing Voucher Recipients." That’s certainly a mouthful, but one of the authors, Rolf Pendall, took to the Atlantic Cities blog to explore the topic further (and in simpler language) and raise questions on both sides of a proclamation: “How Access to Cars Could Help the Poor.”
Pendall notes that though Americans are driving less and, especially among the younger generations, buying fewer cars, that having a car could actually help low-income residents of neighborhoods with high rates of poverty. As his study found, people with cars were twice as likely to find a job as those without, and then those car owners were four times as likely to remain employed.
Pendall issues plenty of caveats as well, noting that more research is needed to determine the exact nature of the relationship between having a car and rates of poverty. Cars are expensive to purchase and maintain, and they can sometimes push people over the limits for assets testing when accessing benefits. Plus, there’s the environmental impact to be considered as well of putting more cars on the road.
One line that stuck with me was when Pendall said: “The importance of automobiles arises not due to the inherent superiority of driving, but because public transit systems in most metropolitan areas are slow, inconvenient, and lack sufficient metropolitan-wide coverage to rival the automobile.”
To me, that sounds like great justification for improving public transportation as a way to help those low-income residents of high-poverty neighborhoods. Perhaps instead of, or alongside, exploring solutions to increase access to cars, more attention could be paid to making sure that public transit can be a fast, convenient, and affordable option for all.