Do Travel Costs Matter?: Using Psychological And Social Equity Perspectives To Evaluate The Effects Of A Low-income Transit Fare Program On Low-income Riders

Liu-Qin Yang, Portland State University



Access to transit can deliver a host of benefits to the riders and to the region. Previous research aiming to study these benefits has primarily relied on data collected from the opening of new routes or transit systems, and has focused on the general population.  Little is known about how low-income riders (LIR) react to, and benefit from, the removal of transit cost barriers. A recent change in TriMet’s Honored Citizens Program (HCP) provides a rare opportunity to do a quasi-experimental study on these questions. 

With the intention of increasing ridership while addressing the needs of transit-dependent riders in the region, TriMet (Portland, Oregon) expanded the Honored Citizens Program in July 2018 to include low-income riders. With this expansion, HCP provides discounted public transit prices for those with low income, as well as other disadvantaged populations such as those with a senior-citizen status and those with physical or mental disabilities. Using a quasi-experimental design with one pre-test and two post-tests, the interdisciplinary research team based at Portland State University intends to assess the effectiveness of the HCP expansion and its effect on changing the travel behavior of low-income participants before and after their enrollment in the program. We will examine their use of public transit and also other modes of transportation (biking, walking, driving solo, carpool). We will also explore whether and how changes in mobility translate into changes in well-being and access to schooling- and employment-related opportunities, among this population. 

Between September 2019 and November 2020, in collaboration with TriMet, the research team plans to survey 200 and interview 10 LIRs who are newly enrolled in HCP, analyze the quantitative and qualitative data, prepare a report for TriMet management, and disseminate the findings to TriMet and other transportation policy makers, as well as prepare journal and conference submissions based on the findings.


We anticipate that our study will have important impacts on both our community partner, TriMet, and the low-income riders who use their public transportation services. TriMet is hoping to get critical information on the effectiveness and perceptions of their new reduced fare program. Additionally, our project is assessing any barriers and problems individuals may have in terms of accessing the program. For TriMet’s riders, we anticipate our project will impact their lives in a way that enables them to have greater commute opportunities and lower costs. Furthermore, our study predicts that the opportunity for lower transportation fare will benefit the wellbeing of its users. Overall, we anticipate this project will provide crucial insights in order to support TriMet in best accommodating a large and vulnerable population. 

Project Details

Project Type:
Small Starts
Project Status:
In Progress
End Date:
November 30,2020
UTC Grant Cycle:
NITC 16 Small Starts 2019
UTC Funding: