There’s a social justice movement built around the concept of transportation equity, which views access as an important human need and seeks to find ways to ensure that lower income people have equal ability to get around their communities, just as higher income people do. Academic researchers have written extensively on this topic, with particular attention paid to the combined burdens of housing and transportation costs for low-income families, which is important. This research typically skews toward the belief that mass transit is the answer. Urban planners readily embrace this idea, so governments and policymakers rely on these expert opinions in rationalizing greater public investment in mass transit as providing a social good for communities.
When I was doing the research that led up to launching On the Road Lending, I spent time talking with academics, policymakers, social service agencies, employers, mass transit agency executives, and potential On the Road Lending clients about transportation. One of the things I learned is that many of the advocates of mass transit don’t use it as their primary form of transportation, and the same is really true of on-demand transit options like Lyft and Uber. My brother and sister-in-law are a good example of what I often hear:
“We love mass transit! Every now and then, we drive to the train station, load up our bikes, and go to the lake for a ride, then have lunch, and take the train back. It’s such a fun way to get around!”
Well, you’d better believe that since the pandemic hit, anyone who has a car is using it and not using mass transit—especially just for fun. This is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends when it comes to mass transit in the COVID-19 age:
While this is all good advice, it’s not practical for essential workers who have long commutes and no choice but to travel during peak hours. And, as we continue to learn more about the virus, the CDC now says the coronavirus can be spread through airborne particles that can linger in the air “for minutes or even hours”—even among people who are more than six feet apart.
We’ve long known about the danger from crime on mass transit, but now it’s also potentially unsafe to breathe while taking mass transit!
The stories I hear from our clients are about much more than just being chronically late for work or losing their jobs because they do not have reliable transportation or being unable to take a better job because it isn’t on a bus or train route. I’ve heard about fears for their safety. I’ve heard about spending a lot of money on taxis, Uber or Lyft to transport them or their children the last mile from the bus stop to their home because it isn’t safe to walk. I’ve heard about being harassed and worse on buses and trains. I’ve heard about tremendous stress and lack of freedom that is only getting worse with what we’ve all had to deal with in 2020.
I founded On the Road Lending to solve a transportation equity problem that can’t be solved with mass transit. For our clients, now more than ever, a car is freedom, and a car is safe.