No Ticket to Ride: Defining Transit Insecurity

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MTI researchers develop a research-based definition of “transit insecurity” to provide framework for future research
July 29, 2021
San José, CA

The ability of persons and communities to reliably access transit is a pressing concern that has not yet received significant attention in the literature on city planning, in public discourse, or in policy research. The latest Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) research, No Ticket to Ride: A Systematic Definition of Transit Insecurity, presents a research-based definition of “transit insecurity” as the inability to consistently access or afford reliable transportation, leading to demonstrable negative impacts on a person or community. This work unifies existing research under a consistent conceptual heading and provides a framework that will foster future research in this area.

Using a systematic review of literature on transportation, this analysis presents four primary factors that contribute to transit insecurity:

  1. Income level: Several studies used in this research found transit insecurity to be more prevalent in lower income individuals or neighborhoods.
  2. Travel distance: Several studies demonstrate the negative impacts that travel distance can have on an individual’s likelihood to make use of health services. For example, one study found that individuals with diabetes actually had higher glycemic levels when they lacked transportation access and were not able to visit health care facilities for treatment.
  3. Travel duration: Similarly, multiple studies suggest that long travel time contributes to persons or communities being transit insecure, which can exacerbate negative health outcomes.
  4. Accessibility: Several studies have shown that transit environments have not always been inclusive of individuals with cognitive impairments and individuals with disabilities.

“Along with the direct effects of inability to consistently access transit, we suspect that there are links between transit insecurity and other, more well-studied issues like food- and job-insecurity; we hope these links will become increasingly apparent with further research,” the study’s author, Dr. Dan Nathan-Roberts, explains.

The first step to addressing a problem is to adequately define it. This research can aid in understanding the impacts of unreliable access to transportation networks. Using this framework, lawmakers, for example, could make use of the definition to pass laws that address inequalities that result from people experiencing transit insecurity. Similarly, city planners and other transportation professionals could use this established definition to identify locations that need more transit and to prioritize work in communities where transit insecurity is widespread—effectively making transportation more equitable for communities that need it most.


At the Mineta Transportation Institute (MTI) at San Jose State University (SJSU) our mission is to increase mobility for all by improving the safety, efficiency, accessibility, and convenience of our nations’ transportation system. Through research, education, workforce development and technology transfer, we help create a connected world. Founded in 1991, MTI is funded through the US Departments of Transportation and Homeland Security, the California Department of Transportation, and public and private grants, including those made available by the Road Repair and Accountability Act of 2017 (SB1). MTI is affiliated with SJSU’s Lucas College and Graduate School of Business.

Dr. Dan Nathan-Roberts is an MTI research associate and associate professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at San Jose State University. For this study, he collaborated with Dr. Noah Friedman-Biglin, assistant professor of philosophy at San Jose State University, Andy Chen, and Ilyada Karogel.


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