Public Transportation – Nuisance or Necessity

by | Jun 17, 2021 | Formation, Homelessness, Reflections

Three different views of public transportation.

Depending on your social situation public transportation can be perceived as an economical convenience, hassle, or lifeline. Which category fits you?

Detroit is facing a challenge with young adults. More are moving to big cities with mass transit. For them, owning a car is neither necessary nor practical. For them public transportation is a convenience.

Others don’t think much about it. They get in their cars and drive their daily commutes.  The ritual is an annoying but necessary part of the daily routine. Public transportation is a hassle.

For the homeless, however, transportation can be a major obstacle. Having a dependable mode of transport is a means of survival and one that society is hesitant, even afraid, to grant them.

Lack of Reliable Transportation Keeps People in Homelessness

2015 Harvard study found that access to reliable transportation is the biggest factor in determining whether someone will escape poverty and avoid homelessness. The absence of it can make life tremendously more difficult. Lack of transport can make thriving in any capacity next to impossible.

For the homeless, reliable transportation can be a way out of their situation—a means of hope. If they can effectively get around the city, they can

  • apply and interview for jobs,
  • visit food banks,
  • access other needed services,
  • pursue educational goals.

By providing a reliable way to get to work every day, transportation makes all the difference in getting someone out of homelessness.

What Prevents Homeless People from Accessing Transportation?

There are several key reasons why the homeless have a difficult time obtaining reliable transportation:


Metro ticket are expensive for homeless people with already limited resources. If it comes down to buying food or paying bus fare, people will choose the expense that better supports their survival.

Stigma around public safety

In cities with large homeless populations, such as use of transportation systems as shelter has caused backlash from the public.

Some cities report that safety and sanitation concerns as reaching crisis levels. This is due to the trash and human waste that often gets left behind. There have also been instances of mentally ill or intoxicated homeless people assaulting bus drivers and riders.

Inadequate bus routes

USC researchers found that those who drive themselves have 30 times greater job accessibility than those who take buses and trains.

Another factor to consider is length of commute. Low-wage workers are more likely to have jobs that will dock pay or fire them for being late. This happens even when workers face unavoidable challenges that come with public transportation.

What’s Being Done to Help?

Several areas have experimented with solutions to make transportation more affordable and accessible. Some of these solutions have proven effective and inspired others to follow their lead.


The ORCA LIFT program in Seattle approaches the problem of difficulty accessing transportation with a simple concept: lower the fares for low-income people. This program cuts fares by about half for low-income residents. The city has also partnered with social service agencies so people can sign up when they receive food stamps or go to the doctor. Other cities are imitating this program.

First we need to acknowledge that homeless people have the same needs as the rest of us. Then, using creativity and compassion in treating the problem, we can make relief and upward mobility a possibility for thousands.

Thanks for the insights from Lack of Reliable Transportation Keeps People in Homelessness – Invisible People and Victoria VanTol, a therapist and freelance writer specializing in topics related to social justice and mental health.