Act: Inspiration

Who are the Transportation Disadvantaged?

July 20, 2017

I just applied to serve on an advisory board to our county transit company, and noticed that the board’s title involved “The Transportation Disadvantaged.” They provide good service to people in need. “Just call,” a friend on the board told a lady in a wheelchair, “Tell ’em you’re disabled and need a ride, and they’ll send someone out.”

But it’s not just the blind and the disabled. Transportation Disadvantaged, in Florida law, also includes “..people with low income who are dependent upon others to access employment, health care, education and other vital services.”

(As if auto drivers didn’t depend on others. No need for massive Federal and state highway programs, continual street and highway maintenance, parking lots, traffic lights, or police forces focused on traffic accidents and violations.)

That definition could be expanded even more. What about someone who can’t travel more than a couple blocks without a 3,000 pound appliance? Who has to buy it, maintain it, fuel it, find parking for it, and ultimately replace it, at a typical cost of $9,000 a year? And who must necessarily use hundreds of gallons of fuel and generate thousands of pounds of carbon dioxide every year?

That’s the average American- disadvantaged compared to his European counterpart, who can go for months without getting into an automobile, and never needs to own one. Whose fuel use and carbon dioxide emissions are much lower (a typical city bus gets about 360 passenger-miles per gallon.)

I stayed recently in a suburb of Zurich, Switzerland. The town had more local trains than my home county has bus lines. We could walk two blocks from our hotel and catch a train to go into the city, use the local trams to get around town, and return on the train in the evening. I hardly ever ride in an automobile in Europe.

Europeans pay high taxes, of course. But they don’t pay the Car Tax. To get along in North America, outside a major metropolitan area, you absolutely must have an automobile- typically one for each adult in the family. For a household with two parents making the median household income of $56,500 a year, that $18,000 expense is over 30% of the budget, and about twice what they pay in income taxes.

“The average working class family is running a vehicle for every licensed driver.”

So said a friend of mine, who owned an auto junkyard and helped to keep those clunkers running. But that was back in 1990. I don’t know if the average working class family could afford that many cars today.

Public transit isn’t free, of course; rides average around $2 in North America. Ten rides a week, for a commute to work and shopping on the way home, would cost $3650 a year. Not free, but still a lot less than operating an automobile.

Of course, I don’t complain about my 3,000 pound appliance when it’s air conditioned and the alternative is walking in 90 degree-plus heat. But if I could get to the bus stop, a mile and a half away, I could board a comfortable air-conditioned bus with connections to many points downtown and elsewhere in the county. Stops are much closer along the routes, but the nearest route is inconveniently far away.

I hope someday to see a bus line closer to home. Until then, I consider my neighbors and I to be Transportation Disadvantaged.


Teaser photo credit: By jjron – Own work, GFDL 1.2,

Bob Wise

Robert Wise brings a lifetime of eclectic experience to inform his Eclectications Blog—field artillery, graduate study in geography and meteorology, mapmaking, college teaching, computer programming in scientific applications, boatbuilding, and developing maps and imagery to support a workstation that could deploy anywhere on earth.

Tags: building resilient communities, public transport, sustainable transport