How Regional Transit Agencies Can Serve the Daily Mobility Needs of the Unhoused Population

Research Team: Mirle Rabinowitz Bussell (lead), Jennifer Nations, and Yao Fu

UC Campus(es): 

Additional Research Partners: UC San Diego

Problem Statement: Transportation and land use planning historically focused on moving people between homes, jobs, and other destinations through origin-and-destination analysis. These planning frameworks assume people have fixed addresses and stable housing, which in turn excludes the perspective of unhoused and unstably housed Californians, whose ranks grew substantially during the COVID-19 pandemic. Research on the mobility of unhoused persons suggests it is possible to incorporate their needs into regional planning, despite heterogeneity (e.g., age, physical and mental health and capabilities, employment status, ownership of a vehicle, etc.) within the population. With more people experiencing homelessness in California cities, some transit agencies have begun to comprehensively address the needs of people experiencing homelessness, a population which historically may not have been included in their planning. In general, unhoused people tend to stay in areas where they have family, friends, and other systems of support. Unhoused persons are less mobile and transient than is often assumed and tend to have established patterns and needs for daily movement between shelter, services, work, and social connections.

Project Description: Research suggests that people experiencing homelessness rely on public transit for the same variety of reasons that all riders do, and that, like other riders, they find it difficult to reach those destinations due to prohibitive costs and transit schedules that do not meet their needs. California transit agencies vary in terms of whether, and how well, they engage with the issue of homelessness. Interviews and a review of policy and programming documents show that most major transit agencies in California made some reference to people experiencing homelessness, but just ten of fifteen addressed their transit needs, and only three addressed those needs through dedicated programs. The authors use this research synthesis to draw greater attention to the ways that transit agencies can serve the mobility needs of people experiencing homelessness. They present findings from a case study on transit accessibility in San Diego County to supplement their statewide review, identifying the ways that transit accessibility is a complex issue, requiring consideration of proximity, ease of physical access, and programmatic supports.

Status: Completed

Budget: $25,000

Policy Brief(s):