It is not without ample reason that the age we live in is called the “Automobile Age.” Consider: Post-World War II has seen a dramatic decline in public transportation. Simultaneously and perhaps consequently, there has been a meteoric rise in the use of automobiles, not just for family vacations but for the bread-and-butter business of getting to work, to school, to child care, and to doctor’s appointments. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in the State of Maryland, 86% of workers 16 years and older drive to work (74% drive alone) and only 7% rely on public transportation. Indeed, the two-car family is replacing the one-car family, with more than a third of American households owning two cars or more. In the business of living, owning a car is no longer a luxury but a necessity.
Even in a city like Baltimore with a public transit system, access to a car is necessary. Baltimore continues to face a “spatial mismatch” between the locations of jobs and the homes of many low-income residents. Many entry-level jobs are not easy to reach by public transit, and many of the better paying jobs for low-income workers require a driver’s license. Unfortunately, car ownership and even a driver’s license are unattainable for many low-income working families. States can set policies that either ease or increase the costs of buying and insuring a car and obtaining a driver’s license. With support from The Abell Foundation, Dr. Jay Chunn and Dr. Allissa Gardenhire researched barriers to driver licensing for low-income residents of Baltimore City. Their key findings include:
In this article, Michael Robbins builds upon Dr. Chunn’s and Dr. Gardenhire’s work through survey research, interviews with relevant officials and program administrators, and cost analysis. He finds the following: