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Study Probes Consequences of Poor Transportation Options on Low-income Latinos

A new study takes a deep look at the heavy toll of poor transportation options on one of the fastest growing populations in Massachusetts – low-income Latinos - and it recommends a path towards change that means greater prosperity for them and for low-income and working families across the state.

Transportation is the fastest-growing source of greenhouse gas emissions causing climate change. Places like Boston and Massachusetts cannot achieve their emission reduction targets without offering more choices for people to get where they need to go. It’s simply not enough to put a bike share in a community, expand a transit line, or to increase bus service in another. We need to understand why people are choosing a particular mode of travel over another. For example, some choose to drive cars because they like to and can afford to. Others do so because it is the only way they have to get around. And, others can neither afford to own a vehicle, nor do they have access to reliable public transit choices where they live. If we embrace the fact that different circumstances affect people’s travel choices or lack thereof, then we will avoid designing interventions that simply don’t work. Powerful solutions need to be tailored to meet the specific needs and circumstances of each group.

This is why Barr commissioned a new study that was released in July 2013 by Neighbor to Neighbor and the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy. Its purpose was to better understand the needs, challenges, and opportunities of Latinos - one of the fastest-growing populations in Massachusetts. Why Latinos? As the report highlights, this important demographic is usually under-represented in traditional research practices (e.g. work with large national datasets). It matters because this type of localized transportation research helps bring inequities to light and spark further dialogue. The authors outline a number of policy and planning recommendations to address the gaps.

The project involved interviewing mostly low-income and Latino residents in four different jurisdictions in Massachusetts (East Boston, Lynn, Worcester, and Springfield) between October 2012 and January 2013. 75% of respondents reported total household incomes below $20,000 and less than 6% had incomes greater than $40,000.

Overall, the reports found that many of these residents lack adequate access to affordable, efficient transportation options, and they make considerable sacrifices as a result. One concrete finding is that the current transportation system limits access to good jobs. How can low-income Latinos improve their economic standing without access to good jobs?

Other surprising takeaways:

  • 40% of the residents sampled do not have access to a car and 35% rely on public transportation as their primary transportation mode.
  • High transportation costs do have an impact on quality of life. Almost 40% of respondents have skipped a basic necessity in order to afford transportation.
  • 63% said they do not have access to “everyday” destinations by walking, necessitating travel outside of their neighborhoods for many routine activities.
  • Three out of four of respondents agreed with the statement, “If public transportation was better, I would drive and/or be driven less.”
Toll of Transportation graph

For more information, reports, and facts sheets on this topic, visit the Transportation focus area at the Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, or Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts

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Mary Skelton Roberts

Mary Skelton Roberts

Co-Director of Climate