Report: Inadequate Public Transit Hurting State’s Low-Income Latinos

BOSTON — With limited quality public transportation, many low-income Latino residents across Massachusetts are reliant on cars, and it’s adversely affecting their finances and job choices, a new report (PDF) argues.

The study — comprised of surveys conducted in East Boston, Lynn, Springfield and Worcester — finds that a majority of respondents rely, often out of necessity, on an automobile as their primary mode of transportation, over more affordable, but perhaps less efficient, public transit options.

“Too many low-income and working families in Massachusetts are forced to choose between expensive dependence on automobiles and inadequate, time-consuming public transportation,” said Stephanie Pollock, of Northeastern University’s Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy, in a press release accompanying the report.

The Dukakis Center conducted the 362 surveys with the community organizing group Neighbor to Neighbor Massachusetts. The sample was 80 percent people of Hispanic origin, and 75 percent of the sample reported total household incomes below $20,000.

(Courtesy Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy)

(Courtesy Dukakis Center for Urban and Regional Policy)

Responses on transportation choices varied depending on location. Seventy percent of East Boston respondents cited public transportation as their primary mode of transportation, compared to just 28 percent in both Lynn and Worcester, and 32 percent in Springfield.

But overall, 3 out of 4 respondents agreed with this statement: “If public transportation was better, I would drive and/or be driven less.”

The report also explores the effects of the low-income residents’ transportation challenges. For example: Across the four locations, 38 percent of respondents said they have, at some point, had to forgo a basic necessity in order to afford transportation.


Focus group participants described how poor access to transit and poor frequency of service resulted in difficulties finding or keeping a job, particularly second-shift jobs and jobs located in nearby locations not served by public transportation.

The report was unveiled Tuesday, as legislative leaders and Gov. Deval Patrick continue to tussle over transportation financing. The governor last week criticized the Legislature’s latest plan as inadequate and offered an amendment seeking to shore up financing sources.

The leaders, House Speaker Robert DeLeo and Senate President Therese Murray, quickly rejected Patrick’s amendment and have indicated they will urge members to vote against it.

The report calls on leaders throughout the state to improve and expand public transit options, and make those options more affordable.

“We’ve spent the last year debating and working on increasing funding for transportation and this report shows why we need to improve our public transit systems to serve all residents of the Commonwealth,” Ana Sanoguel, of Neighbor to Neighbor, said in the press release.

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  • road.rep

    I don’t have a problem with improving the public transportation system as long as 100% of the costs are paid by the users in the form of fares. Massachusetts already has one of the best mass transit systems in the country! Nobody is subsidizing my transportation costs and I’m not asking them to do so. Nobody owes me cheap transportation, and I don’t owe it to anyone else. You say you want to serve ALL residents of the Commonwealth. I don’t see anyone trying to help me. If you can’t afford a car, take the bus. If there is no bus, move to a bus line or walk. Take a little responsibility for your own situation, and get you hand out of MY pocket..

    • arusticat

      I believe that everyone, especially those driving cars, benefits when our buses and trains are full. Riding mass transit is almost never as convenient as using one’s own car – but driving a car is made more convenient when others are using the bus.

      If there is no incentive for using mass transit, if the cost of mass transit approaches the cost of car ownership, our cities will become impassible. I would argue that even subsidized ridership makes your life more pleasant. Don’t bother even think about it as helping others if that is how you lean.

      Drive by a bus stopped to pick up passengers, glance over and contemplate what it would be like if everyone on that bus was driving a car in front of you.

      And we haven’t even gotten to the environmental concerns that are lessened when mass transit is convenient, affordable and heavily used.

      • road.rep

        I agree. But there are no busses or mass transit of any form where I live. Just an expensive toll road into Boston. I think having to pay $23.50 per week for the privilege of using my car and my gas on a public road is already outrageous. That’s about $100 per month to use a public road. I would consider mass transit if there were any. But nobody is suggesting that solution. We are being asked to increase and improve mass transit in areas where it already exists. Doesn’t seem fair to me.

        • arusticat

          I really think that an increase in the state gas tax would be the fairest way to share expenses. There is no good reason that people driving east and west should have a toll and people driving north and south not.

          But it would also be unfortunate if the commuter rail fares increased to such an extent that those people started driving and you’d pay your $23.50 a week and sit in traffic for more hours a day. Mass transit helps everybody – even if it’s tangentially. Improving it so you could use it would be great. Improving it so more people could use it even where it already exists would be great. Spending money on mass transit, increasing its ridership, seems like a no-brainer to me.

        • Justin

          You already said if you don’t live close to mass transit you should consider moving. Why don’t you move?

          • road.rep

            I don’t need to move. I can pay my own way to Boston. I don’t think the rate is fair or reasonable, but I can do it. But I can’t afford to pay for the people in Lynn, and Springfield, and Worcester too. They should pay their own way…..same as me!

    • public

      Who do you think pays for the roads you drive on? I don’t use a car but I’m pretty sure my taxes are paying for the highways.

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