New Pilot Study Initiative Aims to Increase the Mobility of Low-Income Workers in Portland through Auto Ownership


Contact: Sreya Sarkar
Tel.: 503-242-0900
Fax: 503-242-3822
E-mail: Sreya Sarkar

Cascade Policy Institute has released a report unveiling a pilot project to examine the feasibility of promoting low-income auto ownership as a transit strategy.

Cascade’s Wheels to Wealth Program is promoting the formation of a committee to discuss the feasibility of creating an auto-loan program for the low-income population in the Portland tri-county area to assist in meeting the complex transportation needs of this demographic group. This program will be funded using the savings that would come from the cancellation of the lowest performing TriMet bus routes.

The report, Pilot Study Initiative to Explore the Transportation Needs of the Low-Income Population in the Portland Tri-County Area, was written by Sreya Sarkar, Director of the Wheels to Wealth Program at Cascade Policy Institute.

If this auto loan program is implemented (through a 3rd-party social service agency), it will improve the mobility options for low-income households and workers whose transportation needs are not exclusively met by fixed bus routes. The program would increase its participants’ employment opportunities, thereby helping to raise their incomes. It also likely will increase TriMet’s total ridership and raise the fare box recovery rate.

The total population composition of the Portland area has changed substantially in the last five years. According to the U.S. Census Bureau in 2000, 8.5% of families and 13.1% of individuals in Portland were below the federal poverty level. In 2005, 11.8% of families and 17.8% of individuals in Portland were below the poverty level. The demographic group known as the “working poor” is also growing in Portland.

The Wheels to Wealth proposal recommends initiation of a three-year pilot study to explore the possibility of including auto-ownership as part of the transportation choices made available to the low-income and minority populations in the Portland tri-county area as a means of incorporating the “working poor” into the regional transit system.

While it may be counterintuitive to think of a subsidized car ownership initiative in the form of an auto loan program as a “transit strategy,” it is clear that there would be benefits to TriMet, its transit-dependent riders and the general public from testing this concept.

The goal of the Wheels to Wealth Project is to disseminate information to policy makers and the public regarding the positive role private automobile ownership plays in creating and strengthening economic opportunity for the low-income and welfare dependent populations. In Oregon, limited bus routes and schedules contribute to the transportation and employment challenges facing the low-income, transit-dependent population.

Owning a car can make a huge difference to the neediest families in Oregon. Cascade hopes that encouraging assistance for low-income car ownership will lead to changes in various transportation and welfare policies that would benefit more people at a comparably lower cost.

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For more information on this pilot project and the Wheels to Wealth Program, please contact Sreya Sarkar at (503) 242-0900.

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