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Transportation

People in Transit-Rich Neighborhoods Don't Spend Less on Transportation

The surprising results of a new study tracked a decade of real family expenses, and it calls into question a fundamental assumption of affordability research.
People wait at a bus stop in Los Angeles as new development looms.
People wait at a bus stop in Los Angeles as new development looms.Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

In the U.S., whether you own a car is the main determinant of how much you spend to get around—gas alone costs the average American nearly $3,000 annually. So it stands to follow that living in neighborhoods with good public transit access should reduce your transportation expenses. This notion of “location efficiency” is one of the reasons that many housing advocates (including supporters of the now-dead SB 827, the radical transit-oriented housing proposal in California) are so passionate about building affordable units near train and bus stops.

But does moving to a transit-rich neighborhood mean a person’s transportation costs systematically come down? Not according to a new paper that studies a decade’s worth of income dynamics for 11,000 American families, rich and poor. The study, published recently in the journal Housing Policy and Debate, finds almost no relationship between lower transportation spending and neighborhoods with better bus and subway connections when studied through the lens of real-world household spending.