Thursday, May 26, 2016
MTI: Exploring Bicycle and Public Transit Use by Low-Income Latino Immigrants: A Mixed-Methods Study in the San Francisco Bay Area
EXPLORING BICYCLE AND PUBLIC TRANSIT USE BY LOW-INCOME LATINO IMMIGRANTS: A MIXED-METHODS STUDY IN THE SAN FRANCISCO BAY AREA
Report 12-57 / May 2016
Jesus M. Barajas, MURP; Daniel G. Chatman, Ph.D.; and, Asha Weinstein Agrawal, Ph.D.
Latin American immigrants will continue to make up a large share of transit ridership, bicycling and walking in the United States for the foreseeable future, but there is relatively little research about them. This mixed-methods study compares the travel patterns of low-income immigrants living in the San Francisco Bay Area with that of other groups and investigates the barriers and constraints faced by low-income immigrants when taking transit and bicycling. Much of the previous work on immigrant travel has relied on national surveys and qualitative analysis, which underrepresent disadvantaged population groups and slower modes of travel, or are unable to speak to broader patterns in the population. We conducted interviews with 14 low-income immigrants and a paper-based intercept survey of 2,078 adults. Interviewees revealed five major barriers that made public transit use difficult for them, including safety, transit fare affordability, discrimination, system legibility, and reliability. Although crime was the most prominent issue in interviews, the survey results suggest transit cost is the most pressing concern for low-income immigrants. Low-income immigrants were less likely than those with higher-incomes to have access to a motor vehicle, and were less likely than higher-income immigrants or the U.S.-born of any income to have access to a bicycle or bus pass. Finally, although most barriers to public transit use were the same regardless of nativity or household income, low-income immigrants were much less willing to take public transit when they had the option to drive and less willing to bicycle for any purpose. The prevalence of concerns about transit affordability, crime, and reliability suggest transit agencies should consider income-based fare reductions, coordinated crime prevention with local law enforcement, and improved scheduling.
Immigration to the United States is growing. Over the next four decades, many immigrants will come from Latin America with few resources, relying on public transit, bicycling, and walking to meet their transportation needs. Previous research on low-income immigrant travel has relied on national surveys and qualitative analysis, which underrepresent disadvantaged population groups and slower modes of travel, or are unable to speak to broader patterns in the population. This study addresses additional research needs by exploring the travel behavior and experiences of low-income immigrants.
The analysis is based on interviews with 14 low-income immigrants and a paper-based intercept survey of 2,078 adults in the San Francisco Bay Area. Survey site selection criteria resulted in a purposive oversample of low-income immigrants. Interviews generated questions for the survey instrument and focused on experiences with transit and bicycling, transportation barriers, and transportation preferences. The survey asked about respondents’ recent travel, their experiences with transit and bicycling, and their sociodemographic information. Both qualitative and quantitative information contribute to the findings in this report.
First, low-income immigrants talked about five major barriers that made public transit use difficult for them: safety, discrimination, cost, legibility, and reliability. In our interviews, crime was the most prominent barrier—almost every interviewee had a story about their experiences with verbal or physical violence when accessing or using public transit. In contrast to the interview data, among survey respondents transit cost was the most commonly identified barrier for low-income immigrants.
Second, there were small differences in personal vehicle access and travel patterns according to income and immigrant status, consistent with prior research. Low-income immigrants were less likely than those with higher incomes to have access to a motor vehicle, and were less likely than U.S.-born or higher-income immigrants to have access to a bicycle.
Third, most reported barriers to public transit use were about the same irrespective of income and immigrant status, including concerns about affordability, neighborhood crime, reliability, transit access, and sufficient information about public transit. But some barriers are unique to low-income immigrants. Low-income immigrants were much less willing to substitute taking public transit for driving when they have the option to drive, suggesting they obtain car access for particular purposes that transit does not serve, or that their experiences on public transit have been unpleasant. Low-income immigrants were also less willing ride their bicycles for any trip purpose, a finding that is contrary to claims made in other published research. Respondents surveyed at day labor sites rode bicycles more frequently than those surveyed at other locations, suggesting type of employment partially accounts for this finding.
The study results yield a number of implications for policy. The prevalence of concerns about transit affordability, crime, and reliability suggest transit agencies should consider income-based fare reductions, coordinated crime prevention with local law enforcement, and improved scheduling. A significant minority of transit riders value bicycle access to transit, suggesting judicious investment in bike-transit integration is warranted. Finally, because some differences in immigrant travel habits and experiences were significant, travel and on-board surveys should collect data on nativity.
MINETA TRANSPORTATION INSTITUTE
The Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) was established by Congress in 1991 as part of the Intermodal Surface Transportation Equity Act (ISTEA) and was reauthorized under the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st century (TEA-21). MTI then successfully competed to be named a Tier 1 Center in 2002 and 2006 in the Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU). Most recently, MTI successfully competed in the Surface Transportation Extension Act of 2011 to be named a Tier 1 Transit-Focused University Transportation Center. The Institute is funded by Congress through the United States Department of Transportation’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Research and Technology (OST-R), University Transportation Centers Program, the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), and by private grants and donations. The Institute receives oversight from an internationally respected Board of Trustees whose members represent all major surface transportation modes. MTI’s focus on policy and management resulted from a Board assessment of the industry’s unmet needs and led directly to the choice of the San José State University College of Business as the Institute’s home. The Board provides policy direction, assists with needs assessment, and connects the Institute and its programs with the international transportation community.