Full Evaluation of a Low-Income Transit Fare Pilot Program in DC

Low-income households are the most likely to be burdened by the costs of using public transit, the most likely to forego using transit due to cost, and the least likely to have alternative travel options. The cost burden of transit has a number of possible negative effects on low-income Washingtonians, including inhibiting their ability to get and maintain employment, use social services, obtain healthcare, and complete educational programs. Preliminary results from a low-income fare pilot in Boston showed a 30% boost in transit use by low-income households, including trips for health-care/social services visits. In addition, a 2011 experiment in DC found that even small transit subsidies offered to the unemployed increased job search activity by 19%, especially among those living far from employment opportunities. To learn whether and to what extent cost is a key barrier to transit equity, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) is partnering with The Lab @ DC, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), the DC Department of Energy and the Environment (DOEE), and the World Bank to conduct a randomized evaluation of a fully and partially subsidized Metro transit program. WMATA will create a discounted fare product that could be added to a SmarTrip card for eligible low-income individuals. DOEE will enroll participants from public utility assistance programs that already verify income and distribute income-based benefits as part of their standard business process. In the study, participants will be randomly assigned to one of three conditions: no transit subsidy, a partially subsidized fare, and a fully subsidized fare, i.e. free unlimited trips. The project will rely partly on administrative data, which will capture the high-level impacts on the number of trips taken, jobs applied to, job trainings completed, and employment status.