New report reveals how transportation costs burden residents with low income

First-ever comprehensive look at equity of transportation fees, fines and fares in northeastern Illinois

Residents with low income spend 16 percent of their income on transportation, compared to 6 percent for those with high income, according to a new report from the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning.

This is one of the critical findings in CMAP’s first comprehensive analysis of how transportation fees, fines and fares — such as tolls, traffic violation fines and transit fares — burden people with low income, people of color and residents with disabilities. The report also provides policy recommendations to improve transportation equity in metropolitan Chicago.

“Our transportation system is a literal route to opportunity for residents, connecting them to jobs, education and vital services,” CMAP Executive Director Erin Aleman said. “By making transportation costs more equitable, we can ensure that everyone in our region is able to thrive and get to the places they need to go.”

A blue car driving past an Enlightened Word Church Ministry

The report’s key findings include:

  • The cost of driving is unaffordable for many households with low income, but it’s not because of fees. Vehicle registration fees and motor fuel taxes are typically less than 1 percent of a household’s income.
  • Unpaid fines can be financially devastating to those living paycheck to paycheck. For example, paying a fine for failure to obey a stop sign requires 16 hours of minimum wage work.
  • Households with low income take 20 percent more transit trips than other households.
  • Expanding reduced fares to all residents with low income would result in them taking an estimated 15 percent more transit trips.

The report’s recommendations include offering reduced transit fares and vehicle registration fees to all residents with low income. The report also recommends increasing access to I-PASS for residents without bank accounts and adopting income-based fines, among other strategies.

Illinois and the region have already implemented some recommendations including:

  • An Illinois criminal justice reform bill signed in early 2021 rescinds license suspensions and license renewal holds due to failure to pay traffic violation fines, among other reforms.
  • The Illinois Tollway substantially reduced fees for missed tolls in 2020.

The report was developed with extensive input from transportation agencies, researchers and advocates across the region. Find a full list of partners.