Should we be subsidizing cars for low-income families?

When a woman named Tracy received a car from the nonprofit Vehicles for Change, a nonprofit that awards affordable, used cars to low-income families, she was able to triple her income. Before, she had only been able to work minimum-wage jobs that were within walking distance of her house or accessible by bus. With the car, she could travel further for work and landed a job at a telecom company, which paid her enough to allow her to afford to rent her own apartment.

Other Vehicles for Change awardees told Nicholas Klein, a regional planning professor at Cornell University who interviewed 30 of its recipients for a recently published paper, that a car saved them up to two hours of travel time; they could use that time to cook dinner and help their kids with homework. A car allowed people to choose a doctor with better hours or lower fees

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Subsidized cars help low-income families economically, socially

ITHACA, N.Y. – For one low-income woman, not having a car meant long commutes on public transit with her children in tow, sometimes slogging through cold or inclement weather. But after buying a subsidized car through a Maryland-based nonprofit, she was able to move to a home located farther from bus stops, send her children to better schools and reach less expensive medical services.

“So many different things open up to a person that is mobile,” the woman told Nicholas Klein, assistant professor of city and regional planning at Cornell University.

In “Subsidizing Car Ownership for Low-Income Individuals and Households,” published in the Journal of Planning Education and Research, Klein reports insights from interviews with 30 people who gained access to inexpensive, reliable cars through the nonprofit Vehicles for Change (VFC).

He found that the cars conferred wide-ranging benefits, not only shortening commutes and opening opportunities for higher-paying jobs,

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