Improving equity in transportation fees, fines, and fares

Our roads and transit systems connect residents to jobs, education, and services, yet there are significant transportation inequities for residents with low income, communities of color, and people with disabilities.

ON TO 2050, the region’s comprehensive plan, recommends fully funding the region’s transportation system and leveraging it to promote inclusive growth. To support these goals, the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) conducted its first comprehensive analysis of the impacts of transportation fees, fines, and fares on residents with low income.

CMAP’s Improving Equity in Transportation Fees, Fines, and Fares report shows that households with low income are disproportionately impacted and recommends strategies to improve equity and mobility in our regional transportation system.

Buses navigating a foggy bus and train station.

How fines, fees, and fares impact equity in our region

Key findings from the report are summarized below and in the fees, fines, and fares booklet.

Transportation costs are disproportionately burdensome to households with low income

Residents with low income spend 16 percent of their income on transportation compared to 6 percent of residents with high income. Illinois’ regressive tax system — where taxpayers with the lowest income pay a higher proportion of their pay in taxes than higher-income taxpayers — makes the cost of transportation even more difficult for households with low income to afford. These systems further reinforce inequitable outcomes because Black residents, Latinx residents, and residents with disabilities disproportionately live in poverty.

The cost of driving is unaffordable for many households with low income

Driving is the most expensive form of transportation. But many residents with low income must drive, due to a lack of other transit options. As a result, they spend a substantial share of their income on transportation.

Many households with low income are unbanked and under-banked

41 percent of households with annual income under $30,000 cannot use a bank account or access a credit card. This makes it difficult for them to use modern, electronic methods to pay for fees, fines, and fares — and take advantage of any offered cost savings.

Systemic racism creates inequities in transportation enforcement

Traffic violations can lead to additional transportation costs for drivers. And enforcement is not equitable — data shows that people of color are involved in a disproportionate share of traffic stops.

Unpaid fines can be financially devastating

An unexpected expense — such as a traffic violation fine — can be devastating to those living paycheck to paycheck. When residents with low income cannot pay their fines, they may experience bankruptcy, tax garnishment, vehicle impoundment, employment restrictions, or credit score damage.