Transit Planning and Social Equity: A comparative Analysis in West Seattle

by Briana Elise Lovell

Institution: University of Washington
Year: 2013
Keywords: Public transportation; Social equity; Transit network; Transportation planning
Record ID: 2002035
Full text PDF: http://hdl.handle.net/1773/21852


In today's financially constrained environment, public transit agencies face difficult decisions about how to allocate transit infrastructure and service in order to balance competing priorities including geographic coverage, social equity, and maximizing ridership and/or efficiency. Increasingly, some agencies are choosing to reallocate resources towards high quality, frequent service networks with high ridership potential, and away from routes with low productivity. While this type of network restructure has the potential to significantly improve mobility and the quality of transit experience for many citizens, some riders and geographic areas may be negatively affected. This study set out to compare the social equity implications of a hypothetical network restructure oriented around reallocating transit service on low-productivity routes to higher productivity routes in Seattle's West Seattle neighborhood. I developed a hypothetical scenario (Scenario 2) using the productivity measures that King County Metro applies to all routes in the transit system, and compared the results to current service (Scenario 1). Social equity impacts were evaluated by examining the change in transit service, measure by total weekly trips, for several population groups that are likely to experience a disadvantage in transportation. These groups included households below poverty, population over 65 years of age, population under 18 years of age, and people of color. Zero car households were also examined, though this variable was considered separately. The comparative analysis found that for four out of the five population groups studied, Census tracts in the study area with higher than average densities of those groups of experienced even greater benefit from the high-productivity network structure (Scenario 2) than the tracts with lower concentrations. The exception was tracts with a high percentage of people over 65 years of age; these tracts still gained service but to a lesser degree than tracts with a low percentage of population over 65. In general, these findings suggest that there may be positive social equity impacts from a transit network structure that emphasizes productivity over geographic coverage. However, several census tracts with above average concentrations of the transport-disadvantaged populations studied did experience negative outcomes. Negative impacts to these "high-impact, high-disadvantage" areas could be avoided using a more complex restructure design, and/or mitigated through innovative programs to provide alternatives to fixed-route transit service.