Region's poor residents felt the Metro shutdown the most

by Sean Riley


When Metro shut down for 29 hours this week, some people had other options for getting to and from work. But many of the region's low-income workers, who depend on transit more than others, were left in the lurch.

For anyone living or working in in our region, Tuesday's news that the District's metro rail system would close for a full 29 hours for an emergency safety investigation starting midnight Wednesday ignited an immediate firestorm of criticism.

To be clear, the safety of commuters and that of WMATA employees is absolutely paramount. If officials believed that the potential risks to riders and employees were grave enough to warrant an emergency shut down of the system, they were right to make the decision they did.

But an equally important conversation officials should be having is about the potential impacts of such mammoth service disruptions to the area's most vulnerable populations, particularly low-income workers. After all, the ability to quickly absorb major disruptions in public transportation access—in other words, the ability to find alternative ways to easily and safely get to work, or to fulfill work obligations remotely—is in many ways its own form of economic privilege. And that seems to be lost on far too many.

As you think back to Wednesday, here are three considerations to keep in mind:

Public transportation users are disproportionately poorer than other commuters

Metro's six rail lines serve an estimated 700,000 riders every day. And according to the US Census Bureau, and estimated 400,000people use mass transit in the Washington, DC region to get to work daily. Of course, for many, using public transportation is a matter of convenience. The ability to hop on the nearest bus or train and arrive at your destination with relative ease makes public transportation a more desirable option than dealing with excessive vehicle traffic or lack of reliable, affordable parking.

But public transportation can be an economic necessity for many commuters. And as one study finds, there's a stark socioeconomic gap between those who use public transit and those who commute by other means in nearly every major U.S. city—including DC.

Using data from the American Community Survey, the study finds that the median earnings of public transportation commuters in the District is $45,771, compared to $51,469 among all DC commuters. [MORE HERE]