Cost and time effects of alternative reverse commute options on low -income urban residents: A Philadelphia region

Shirley Morrison Loveless, University of Pennsylvania


Welfare reform in the 1990s was instituted with little apparent recognition of the importance of regional differences in spatial distributions of and variations in welfare populations, location of work opportunities, and differences in levels of service of transportation systems. “Reverse commuting”—the travel of urban dwellers to suburban employment, became a standard feature of Federal and most state welfare-to-work plans, on the assumption this was the most practical strategy for rapidly connecting welfare recipients to jobs. Little attention was given to its impacts on household budgets and family quality of life for low-wage reverse commuters. This dissertation is a study of trip times and costs of many actual, “best case,” reverse commutes in the Philadelphia region, using alternative travel modes, showing how these commutes might affect different types of low-income families. Results show these inter-county commutes are longer by distance, take more time than regional average commutes, and impose disproportionately high time and cost burdens on low-income households, particularly single female-headed households. Policy reliance on traditional transit services for low-income reverse commuters may prevent them from escaping poverty in the long-run, even if the short-term goal of increased employment of welfare recipients is met. Trip times for transit commutes are particularly onerous, but many low-income households cannot afford the alternative of automobile commuting. Non-mode-limited, income-based governmental assistance for low-wage commuters could ease the commuting cost burdens significantly and more flexible, innovative planning to improve non-car alternatives could reduce commuting times. In the long run, better integration of transportation, land-use and employment policies is needed to expand access to job opportunities and transportation choices for low-skilled, low-income individuals. Results of this study also suggest welfare-to-work plans should fit the particular low-skilled labor market characteristics, transportation options and characteristics of local welfare recipients of each metropolitan area. Differences between regions are significant and uniform policies do not work well.

Subject Area

Urban planning|Area planning & development|Transportation|Welfare

Recommended Citation

Loveless, Shirley Morrison, "Cost and time effects of alternative reverse commute options on low -income urban residents: A Philadelphia region" (2001). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3015341.