Marginalized Populations’ Access to Transit: Journeys from Home and Work to Transit

Marisa Zapata, Portland State University



Previous scholarship has shown that low-income individuals who also might identify as racial, ethnic, and gender minorities (such as transgender and gender nonconforming) are more likely to be dependent on public transportation. What remains understudied is how these marginalized groups, given their intersectional identities of oppression, might experience transit. The primary research question guiding this project is how do people with intersecting marginal identities experience social exclusion as they travel via mass transit? 

To answer the above research question, we employed a photovoice methodology and video-call interviewing, in Portland, OR, and Salt Lake City, UT. Across these two sites we interviewed 35 BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and other People of Color) with an income level less than $35,000 per person per year or $70,000 per family per year who use transit regularly, who were ethnically diverse, and included immigrants and people with other marginalized identities. In the interviews we found that people from these historically marginalized communities experience economic barriers, discrimination, harassment, and violence on transit and in public areas such as sidewalks, bus stops, and transit platforms when accessing transit related to their intersecting identities (e.g., being a woman of color). 

We examined how to make transit more accessible; for example, transit passes for low-income individuals, higher frequency of buses, lighting in dark areas, Spanish messaging in stations and on buses, to mention a few. We found that transit workers were key to feelings of safety by marginalized riders, where they could create a sense of welcome and community and fairly and consistently support policies that facilitated access for all. In addition, technology could be a mechanism for safety and ease of travel, but also widen socioeconomic gaps. Our findings are a starting point about what not only Salt Lake City and Portland planners, policymakers, social service providers, and case managers can do, but also what other municipalities could expect in terms of improving transportation and services for these vulnerable populations.

Project Details

Project Type:
Project Status:
End Date:
June 30,2022
UTC Grant Cycle:
NITC 16 Round 4
UTC Funding: