NC transit study: need to ensure low-income riders have access

In a study with potential implications for Asheville’s own transit system, the NC Justice Center emphasizes that systems need to focus on helping low-income riders.

“The success of new and expanded transit in North Carolina will largely depend on how well the transit system retains and reaches its most reliable customers: low-income North Carolinians,” the report finds. “This requires developing transit plans with an eye to where low-income people live and work.”

The center is a progressive research and advocacy organization that often studies topics relating to low-wage workers.

Sixty-seven percent of the state’s transit riders have incomes below $25,000, the study found, and seven in 10 are renters. However, housing in the state’s urban cores — where transit is strongest and more jobs are located — is becoming less affordable even as more low-income workers are using transit.

By comparison, a major factor in Asheville’s plans focused on attracting more higher-income “choice riders,” including a marketing push that renamed the system Asheville Redefines Transit. However, the city’s emphasized both affordable housing and proximity to transit lines as a factor in its decisions about which developments get incentives, or money from its affordable housing trust fund. The study encourages city planners to think outside their usual “silos” and coordinate housing, transit, and economic development efforts.

But such increased transit development can also have some paradoxical effects, the Justice Center study notes: “Neighborhoods near new transit stations tend to attract higher‐income and vehicle-owning residents who are less likely to use public transit compared to core transit users.”

Asheville’s main transit hub is located in downtown, which has become more expensive over the past decade.

Without early, coordinated planning, “the spatial mismatch between transit, affordable housing, and jobs will likely continue to grow,” the study concludes.

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