The purpose of this project is to investigate how the cost of public transit influences low-income transit use and access and, thus, how a low-income fare policy instrument could improve the quality of life of low income transit users. A randomized controlled evaluation was conducted to study the effect of providing a 50% discounted MBTA fare to low-income individuals in the Boston region. Individuals receiving food stamps (SNAP) benefits were recruited and then randomly assigned to either receive a 50% discount CharlieCard or a regular CharlieCard. Participants daily provided the purposes of their transit trips via an automated text-based mobile-phone ChatBot tool. Pre- and post-study surveys were also administered by the ChatBot.
Preliminary findings of our research suggest low-income riders in the study took more trips as a result of receiving a subsidy. Compared to the control group receiving only a CharlieCard, those participants receiving a 50% discounted CharlieCard:
- Took about 30% more trips.
- Took more trips to health care and social services.
The research also suggests that low-income transit riders in the study use the MBTA differently from the average transit rider. Compared to the average MBTA rider, the low-income individuals participating in the study:
- Took more of their trips during off-peak times.
- Relied more heavily on buses and Silver Line.
- Made more transfers among modes and routes (e.g., subway to bus to another bus).
- More often paid with stored value on a card rather than one-day, seven-day, or monthly passes.
Finally, in answer to the question, “What do you think is the biggest problem with public transportation (MBTA) in Boston?” participants in the study:
- Reported reliability, affordability, frequency, and crowding as top concerns.