The National Academies

TCRP Synthesis J-07/Topic SB-40 [Active (Synthesis)]

Low-Income Transit Discount Provision at Public Transit Agencies in the United States
[ TCRP J-07 (Synthesis of Information Related to Transit Practices) ]

  Project Data
Funds: $55,000
Authorization to Begin Work: 5/5/2023 -- estimated
Staff Responsibility: Jamaal Schoby
Research Agency: University of Tennessee - Knoxville
Principal Investigator: Candace Brakewood
Fiscal Year: 2023



Fare pricing structures have implications for both transit agencies operations and rider accessibility and equity outcomes. Certain fare structures present more inequitable outcomes based on evaluations of ability to pay versus amount paid by riders in different income brackets. Discounts for low-income riders is one mechanism that has been proposed to increase the equity of existing fare structures. Previously, some agencies sold bulk tickets at a discounted rate to local nonprofit organizations to distribute, however, provision of low-income discounts by agencies and/or metropolitan transportation commissions has been increasingly popular. In 2021, 17 of the 50 largest transit agencies in the United States had discounted ticket programs for low-income riders.

Agencies in Seattle - spearheaded by King County Metro, the Bay Area - run by the Metropolitan Transportation Commission, and Central Ohio Transit Authority all run programs providing discounted transit passes to low-income riders. The programs vary in terms of eligibility verification, discount percentage, organization running the program, existing fare structure, and regional collaboration in provision of discounts. Understanding these variations, the financial implications for participating agencies, and the equity and accessibility implications for riders is crucial as agencies continue to implement programs to improve fare equity. Evaluating the current landscape of means-based discount programs across the variety of transit agencies in the United States will provide crucial insights for current operators.


The objective of this synthesis is to document the current practice of providing discounts for low-income riders at transit agencies. In addition, the synthesis will document how discount programs work with different fare structures and mediums, and how programs can be coordinated regionally with neighboring operators. Finally, access and equity evaluations from a selection of agencies will provide insights into the rider outcomes of these program.


  • Discount structure and amount
    • E.g., 50% off single ride, weekly discounted pass, etc.
  • Discount cutoff (i.e., 200% fpl, 150% fpl)
  • Eligibility verification process, if any
  • Funding sources and financial implications
  • Regional collaboration with neighboring agencies
  • Who operates the program, do all agencies participate, is an MPO overseeing?
  • Access and equity outcomes from the program (from information gathering from program participants)
  • Agency pricing structure (flat, distance-based, zone-based, etc.)
  • Fare medium (smart cards, open loop, magstripe cards, etc.)
  • Agency size measured by unlinked passenger trips
  • Literature review of low-income discount practices in the United States;
  • Information collection from transit agency websites to evaluate existence of low-income discount programs;
  • Surveys of agencies with discounts;
  • Case examples


Brown, A. E. (2018). Fair fares? How flat and variable fares affect transit equity in Los Angeles.
Case Studies on Transport Policy, 6(4), 765–773. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cstp.2018.09.011 
Darling, W., Carpenter, E., Johnson-Praino, T., Brakewood, C., & Voulgaris, C. T. (2021). Comparison of Reduced-Fare Programs for Low-Income Transit Riders. Transportation Research Record, 2675(7), 335–349. https://doi.org/10.1177/03611981211017900 
Harmony, X. (2018). Fare Policy and Vertical Equity: The Trade-off between Affordability and Cost Recovery. Journal of Public Transportation, 21(2). https://doi.org/10.5038/2375-0901.21.2.3  

First Meeting (Topic Panel): September 27, 2023

Second Meeting (Topic Panel and Contractor): November 8, 2023


Panel Members

Edward "Ed" Watt, WattADR

Calvin Gregory Thigpen, Lime    

Jose C Feliciano, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority (RTA)

Tina Dubost, San Mateo County Transit District (SamTRANS)

Israel Maldonado, San Diego Metropolitan Transit System

MacPherson Hughes-Cromwick, Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority

Ms. Nancy Brooks, Deloitte Consulting LLP

Tracy Byrd, Ann Arbor Area Transportation Authority


FTA Liaison

Jeremy Mott, FTA Liaison

Elliot Sperling, FTA Liaison

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