Health is everything. If that wasn’t clear before, then the COVID-19 pandemic made it crystal. The absence of a healthy body and mind robs people of life’s greatest joys.
The ability to maintain healthy lifestyle habits depends on the durability of multiple interconnected parts. Think of it like a bridge: When the structural integrity of all parts are sound, the bridge will last for generations. However, when one area deteriorates and remains unrepaired, a chain reaction causes the bridge to collapse.
When discussing how we keep our communities healthy, access to equitable public transit is a critical—if not overlooked—piece of the foundation as much as exercise, nutrition, and stress management.
Equitable public transit is not a piece to gloss over considering that millions of Americans rely on public transportation to access basic healthcare services. Communities that lack access to equitable public transit become vulnerable to high-risk health issues, ultimately leading to personal trauma, strained relationships, and financial devastation.
The physical and mental effects for both urban and rural communities facing significant equitable public transit barriers have been well-documented over the last 50 years, long before COVID-19 entered the public lexicon.
Physical side effects of inequitable public transit
In 2012, 698 low-income adult patients from New York City were surveyed about how transportation difficulties affected their healthcare access. Of the 94% who responded, 25% indicated they missed or rescheduled appointments due to transportation access.
Three separate studies published between 1998 and 2007 in AIDS Care, BMC Health Services Research, and The Journal of Rural Health about barriers to healthcare in rural midwestern and Appalachia communities all found similar themes: residents struggled to receive the care they needed because a viable source of transportation was unavailable.
Mental side effects of inequitable public transit
On the mental health side, equitable public transit plays a role in alleviating depression, especially in older adult populations. Human beings are social creatures by nature. The pandemic has shown the cumulative effect of isolation, but many communities have struggled coming together pre-pandemic due to the lack of an equitable public transit system. Reopening communities after the trauma of the pandemic means connecting all community members together through a strategic investment into equitable public transit.
No matter how deep into the research history you go, the conclusions remain consistent. The absence of equitable public transit means residents have to reschedule primary care doctor appointments, skip life-saving treatments for severe disease, or delay dental work that can alleviate chronic pain. They are forced to make difficult financial decisions about how they spend their money as their transportation and health expenditures clash. The impact of these decisions isn’t felt only by those closest to them—health care providers end up prescribing more costly emergency services to preventable health issues while local governments distribute more Medicaid payments.
In the end, everyone pays a hefty price.
Addressing mobility inequity is at the core of our mission at TransLoc. Contact our AICP-certified transportation planners at Planning & Design Services for ideas on how your transit data can deconstruct the barriers of inequity. Let’s start a new conversation about how equitable public transit can be one of the prescriptions needed to restore the physical and mental health of your community.