Magazine article Chicago Policy Review (Online)

How Public Bus Routes Can Deconcentrate Poverty and Promote Equity

Magazine article Chicago Policy Review (Online)

How Public Bus Routes Can Deconcentrate Poverty and Promote Equity

Article excerpt

Initiatives that aim to address geographically concentrated poverty often focus on providing affordable housing. While such housing projects may increase quality of life for residents, they are unlikely to reduce the concentration of poverty in particular areas. New research suggests that a more effective approach to changing the geography of poverty requires the expansion of effective public transportation systems. For those who depend on public transit to commute to work, the proximity of bus stops and train stations can make the difference between a community that is affordable to live in and one that is not. More robust public transit options can help to deconcentrate poverty and promote equity and inclusivity across different areas.

In a paper titled “Public transit access and the changing spatial distribution of poverty,” Pathak, Wyczalkowski and Huang analyze the link between public bus routes and the geography of poverty in the Atlanta metropolitan area. Using tract-level U.S. census data from 1970 to 2010, the authors found that the presence of a public bus route in Atlanta’s suburban census tracts is associated with a 2.32 percent increase in the poverty rate on average, compared to census tracts without bus routes. Public bus routes attract low-income residents because they offer an affordable means of transportation.

In order to establish a causal relationship between bus routes and poverty rates, the authors controlled for a variety of factors that could plausibly influence poverty rates, including housing quality and the proportion of manufacturing employment. Yet, even after these factors were accounted for, there remained other challenges in verifying that the observed pattern between bus routes and poverty rates was not simply correlative. For example, what if an important neighborhood variable was overlooked? What if the bus routes were established specifically to serve low-income communities? To address these types of questions and to form a causal conclusion, the authors performed several robustness checks, including an instrumental variable regression analysis.

The purpose of conducting this regression analysis was to identify a variable that accurately anticipated the locations of public transit stops but was not itself linked to poverty levels. …

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