Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

The Demographics of Public Transit Subsidies: A Case Study of Los Angeles


Public transit subsidy represents a transfer of income from taxpayers to transit users. Such transfers raise questions regarding their effects, particularly equity. Our research focuses on social equity, and concerns the distribution of transit subsidies among socio-economic groups. Accordingly, this paper examines the ways that transit subsidy equity can be measured, and reviews the previous studies on this topic in detail. We propose a more precise method for measuring the subsidy of individual transit trips than has been employed in previous research. Using service consumption and travel survey data from the Los Angeles County MTA and a set of multi-factor cost allocation models developed in an earlier phase of this research, we examine the distribution of transit subsidies among various demographic groups,

We find that the distribution of transit costs and benefits among transit users is regressive with respect to income, more regressive than was found in most of the research conducted two or more decades ago. On average, consumers of short-distance local bus service – who are disproportionately low-income, African-American or Latino, younger, and female – require substantially less subsidy per trip than consumers of long-distance express of rail service – who are disproportionately higher-income, Anglo or Asian, older, and male. While low-income residents generally benefit from the public transit subsidy, this analysis finds that the benefits of subsidies disproportionately accrue to those least in need of public assistance. These findings raise questions regarding the conflicting objectives of transit policies which seek to deploy services to attract both transit dependents and choice riders.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View