Since the MBTA introduced their January 2012 proposal for service cuts and fare increases, thousands of transit riders have turned out to public hearings and rallies to voice their discontent. The proposed changes will affect transit riders throughout the Boston Metropolitan region, and some will feel those effects more deeply than others. Nobody wants to pay more for their commute to work, school or the grocery store, but riders who can least afford to pay more or have their transit route cut, such as youth, elderly and low income residents, stand to lose the most if these changes are enacted. Simply put, public transportation is a matter of social justice.

According to Census 2010 data, there are close to two million people living in Census blocks within half a mile of an MBTA bus stop, nearly 665,000 within half a mile of a subway or light rail station and just over 700,000 within half a mile of an active commuter rail station. The T reported 356,060,335 annual passenger trips on their system in 2010, and according to their 2008 Ridership Survey, 30 percent of respondents use the T to get to work or school (though the survey was limited to riders over the age of 18, so this number is likely even larger). Basically, the T is an integral part of many people’s daily lives.

For some area residents, riding the T is a cost-effective and efficient alternative to driving, but for many it is the only transportation option. According to the 2008 Ridership Survey, 25 percent of MBTA riders do not have access to a vehicle. Indeed, many area residents are not paid enough to afford a vehicle, and are barely scraping by. The Federal Poverty Level is defined as $10,380, but according to the Massachusetts Economic Independence Index 2010, a resident of Boston needs to make $28,717 annually just to make ends meet. The living wage number jumps to $45,931 for a household with one adult and one school-age child. Yet, according to the 2008 Ridership Survey, nearly 40 percent of MBTA riders have a household income less than $40,000, and 17 percent have a household income less than $20,000.

This means that 40 percent of riders are already struggling financially. Increasing the cost of transit means people will have to choose something else to cut out of their budget, like groceries, child care, health care or utilities. Taking away service all together may make it impossible to commute to work, thereby exacerbating an already dire financial situation.

The maps included in this post are intended to offer a visual demographic look at who has access to MBTA services. They reinforce the notion that T riders are diverse economically, racially and by age. The maps also show that there are areas of our region that are segregated along economic lines and color lines, and that access to MBTA services is not equal for all.

The T is in economic crisis – that is clear. However, it would be a huge mistake for the MBTA and Massachusetts Legislature not to reflect closely on the demographic makeup of their constituencies and ensure that whatever the final solution, transit dependent riders do not lose their transportation life-line.

Check out the full Flickr slideshow for more maps.

[flickrslideshow acct_name=”jpartridge” id=”72157629124071712″]

Editor’s Note: Jessie Partridge is a graduate student at Tufts University getting an M.A. in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning. She is researching regional transit justice in Massachusetts for her Master’s thesis. Jessie is a resident of Boston and a daily rider of the T.

This post is part of an ongoing series, called “Rerailing the MBTA,” about transit in Massachusetts in connection with the MBTA fare increase and service cuts proposals. To read more, click here

Images via Jessie Partridge