Case Study: Access to Public Transportation
Feeling at home in one’s new country and getting to know the culture of that society depend on the ability one has to access and take part in social life. Many asylum seekers are eager to join and interact with the society they are settling in, but find that without transportation, they have no way to explore and understand their surroundings. High traffic urban environments, which provide access to financial, civil, and educational institutions, are out of reach for asylum seekers living in refugee homes located outside of the city center. Stockholm offers an effective and reliable transportation system, but at a cost that is generally unaffordable for asylum seekers: a single adult (residing in a refugee home) waiting for asylum in Sweden is given on average 24 SEK/day in personal allowance. The cost of a one-way ticket is between 31 SEK and 44 SEK.
In 2017, our team provided 10 asylum seekers residing in Stockholm county with a 30-day access card to the Stockholm SL public transportation system. We involved two young and independent asylum seekers, a family with three children and an elderly couple to understand how access to public transportation affected their daily activities, well-being and sense of belonging.
Our participants included:
- one adult male (18-30 years old)
- one adult female (18-30 years old)
- one family with children:
- one husband/father (30-64 years old)
- one wife/mother (30-64 years old)
- three children under 18 years old
- one elderly couple:
- one husband (over 65 years old)
- one wife (over 65 years old)
Purpose and Methods
We used a before-and-after method, interviewing asylum seekers before the case study to understand their challenges without access to public transportation, and surveying them after the case study to understand what changed. We used both (1) quantitative measures, asking them to log their trips during their 30-day period and indicating when they traveled and what the purpose of the trip was; and (2) qualitative measures with open-ended questions. The card value for each user is 830SEK, with the exception of the 3 young children in the family, who could travel along with their parents.
The case study intended to understand the use of the public transportation system in relation to asylum-seekers' well-being during their waiting periods. The purpose of each trip was categorized as follows:
- Social: for socializing activities, such as meeting locals or friends.
- Medical: to visit a doctor or seek medical assistance.
- Recreational: for fitness-related and well-being activities.
- Educational: to join a language or skill-based course, attend university or educational programs.
- Professional: to find jobs or participate in an internship.
- Child Care: in relation to any and all children’s activities.
- Cultural: to participate in cultural events or visit museums, exhibitions and learn more about the city.
At the end of the test, we surveyed each participant to further understand the relationship between access to public transportation and their overall well-being, feeling of inclusion and understanding of their community in comparison to the period of time preceding the test.
Our survey included questions such as:
- How does having access to public transportation affected your daily routine?
- What places were you able to visit? How often?
- How did having access to public transportation affect you during the asylum-seeking application waiting time?
- Did you feel a greater sense of belonging in your community?
- How did having access to public transportation encourage you to take part in communal activities?
What does having access to public transportation mean for an asylum seeker?
When our team first interviewed asylum seekers waiting on their case status to advance with the migration agency, we quickly learnt that while they are eager to take part in their community there are several obstacles that prevent their involvement. Although early-inclusion and self-integration initiatives generally exists in every municipality, there are often hindrances to take part in them, including high costs of services, personal insecurities and lack of information. One of the most challenging hurdles is access to public transportation: for asylum seekers who cannot work while waiting for their case status and for newly-registered refugees learning to navigate their environment, the high costs of public transportation, particularly in Stockholm, make it virtually impossible to purchase a ticket or monthly subscription.
Our case study gave asylum seekers of different genders, ages and civil status access to the SL Public Transportation system for 30 days without restriction of movement. Our team wanted to confirm an early-stage assumption that, with access to mobility, asylum seekers would access services and initiatives to learn more about their new environment and build confidence for self-integration.
Participants logged collectively over 200 trips, traveling either individually or together as a family. The overall findings of the test showed that the majority of trips were taken for socially motivated reasons (24%), followed by child care (23%), professional (16%), cultural (14%), medical (12%), educational (11%) and recreational (1%). Each age group showed major differences in the reasons behind their trips, hinting at the varying needs and wishes of asylum seekers. Where Group 1 (age 18-30 years old) used public transportation to access language and skill-based courses for internships and jobs in the Swedish labor market, Group 3 (age 65+ years old) dedicated their time to social and cultural involvement. Group 2 (age 30-64 years old) focused heavily on child care, family-related activities and job searching. Similarly, medical-related trips grow steadily from group 1 (only 5% of all trips) to group 3 (29% of all trips), where we assume the needs of the two age groups are different. The same is true for the need to work and integrate within society via an occupation, where group 1 searched actively for jobs and internships, and participated in educational resources such as language and skill-based courses to increase their marketability (50% of their trips). Interestingly, group 3 was the one that allowed most time for cultural activities and getting to know the city, while only 1% of all trips was dedicated to wellness activities, such as going to play a sport or joining the gym. Group 2 also dedicated a large portion of their trips, 45%, to child care and is seen actively involved in their children’s activities.
"There will be no blocks between us and others. We feel ourselves as if we are citizens of Sweden, not strangers."
Socially-motivated trips, such as meeting with friends and acquaintances, ranked highest on the list, with participants describing a renewed feeling of belonging when traveling to meet others outside of the refugee home. This number grows steadily from age group 1 (18-30 years old) to group 3 (65+ years old ), where age group 3 seems to be more socially involved than the younger group. Age group 3 was also more socially involved in meeting with their own family, noting on their surveys that they most often travelled to meet their own children and their extended families. Nonetheless, participation in social engagements and communal living promoted a sense of belonging and well-being. In particular, it allowed participants to be actively involved in activities outside of the asylum-seeking application, confirming our research assumption that applicants wish for the opportunity to detach themselves from the worries of the immigration process. In the words of one of our participants, it was important to “get involved in the community and start the real life which we are looking for. There will be no blocks between us and others. We feel ourselves as if we are citizens of Sweden, not strangers.”
"I was able to focus on what was most important for me: my children."
The second most prevalent reason for traveling was child care. Adults with children found themselves heavily engaged in their children’s well-being and thriving, accompanying them to school and to recreational activities, in particular swimming classes. Most asylum-seeking families we have interviewed expressed a pressing wish to make sure their children can lead better lives and thrive in their new environment. With access to public transportation for both the parents and children, the family was able to enjoy activities together once again, renewing their sense of belonging and normalcy in their new lives. In conversation with them, our team learnt that typically the family was only able to purchase one monthly card, which was traditionally used by the husband to take care of the children’s activities, look for jobs and manage the family asylum application case. With both parents having access to public transportation, child care related activities could now be shared, creating a supportive family environment for both parents, and most importantly, allowing them to participate in family activities outside of the refugee home together.
"It affected me in many different ways, economically and psychologically. The feeling that I can go anywhere gave me self-confidence."
Asylum seekers waiting on approval of their asylum-seeking application often cannot get permits to work, and have expressed the uttermost wish and need to work and contribute to the economy. Many of the asylum seekers we interviewed hold some form of higher education degree, attended university before fleeing without completing their degrees or hold qualifications and certificates for their industry. Finding a job and supporting themselves (in the case of individuals) or their family (in the case of adults with underage children) are the two most pressing objectives of asylum seekers, pushing the number of trips using public transportation in search for jobs or internships to 16% of the total across all groups. Participants from group 1 and 2 also showed a higher number of trips looking for jobs or internships, ranking respectively at 20% and 19%. It is important to emphasize that our group 1 female participant used 40% of her overall trips looking for jobs and attending internships while actively attending language classes (28% of her trips). She pointed out that learning to speak the language was key in getting a job and succeeding in her internship.
"I want to learn everything: the country, the culture, the mentality of people."
Asylum seekers and refugees expressed many times their interest to learn "everything there is" about Sweden, from the language to the culture. Although Stockholm has many museums and cultural events, these are often out of range, both in terms of price and location. Our case study showed that although it was not a priority, several participants used their transportation cards to be part of the community, visiting museums and attending open-to-the-public festivals and cultural events. The most active group to take part in these activities was group 3, where the time availability allowed elderly participants to focus on learning about the new culture and community.
"It was very helpful. With a transportation card, I could plan my schedule a couple of days in advance."
Participants stressed the importance of making better decisions for themselves and planning their daily schedules. With a transportation card came the opportunity to have flexibility and adjust one's schedule to partake in activities at one's best pace, which included combining every day trips with medical assistance. Group 2 and group 3 utilized their public transportation cards to reach clinics and health care, with group 2 combining their own healthcare with that of their children. Group 1 used the transportation card the least for this purpose, while group 3 used it the most, emphasizing the relationship between health care needs and age.
"I miss the sense of freedom you get from having a choice."
One of the earliest conversations we had was with Adnan, a young Syrian asylum seeker who commuted to the library on his own to learn the language with children's books. Adnan, together with our case study participants, emphasized the need to learn the language in order to become part of their new community. All participants took part in language courses with more frequency in group 1, where young adults know that the key to their marketability and access to the working force is speaking the language. Group 1 was also heavily involved in examinations for further certifications in their industry and skill-based courses to continue their professional growth.
What do the results mean?
The purpose of our case study was to understand the benefits of having access to public transportation and control of one's schedule in relation to self-participation in early-inclusion activities and sense of belonging in asylum seekers. Where asylum seekers continue to take self-initiative to participate in social activities driven by both need and wish to be part of their new society, they find obstacles in securing access to public transportation due to financial instability and insecurities in their immigration status.
During the 30-day case study, our participants expressed that having continued access to public transportation allowed them to better plan their schedules and feel a renewed sense of control of their lives. Having the security of the public transportation service pushed them to engage in communal activities and focus on their integration, while forgetting for a moment the asylum-seeking application. As one of our case participants noted, if access to public transportation was provided at an earlier stage of the asylum-seeking application process, the self-inclusion and integration benefits would exponentially grow over time.
One of our earliest assumptions was that, if we could engage asylum seekers in communal activities and early-inclusion, we could disconnect them from the asylum seeking application process, focusing their attention onto integration while reducing the load of unnecessary requests to the Swedish Migration Agency. Although some participants noted that participating in communal activities helped them deal with the asylum-seeking waiting time, only a longer case study with tailored quantitative and qualitative methods will better measure the impact of public transportation and early-inclusion activities on asylum-seekers well-being during the immigration process.
Notes on Gender Roles and Contribution to Gender Equality
The Welcome Card empowers both women and men equally by providing them access to public transportation and encouraging them to participate in communal activities. According to the UN’s “The World’s Women 2015” report, women and girls account for 49 per cent of the global refugee population, yet they are especially at risk of violence and exploitation, partly because they often lack decision-making power. In our case study, we have seen that men in family nuclei have traditionally taken on the role to develop professionally and train for jobs, thus something as simple as a transportation card is purchased at the benefit of men. We believe that providing continued and inclusive services, such as public transportation, to both men and women equally, will encourage socialization and personal growth for all genders. Studies have shown that when women (with or without children) are provided with the support network and mobility needed to thrive, they will not only personally benefit, but will also ensure thriving for their children and social group. We want to encourage usage of the services for women and girls, while we plan to safeguard access to them for all.
Thoughts on Sustainability
Public transportation, and particularly the Stockholm public transportation system, offer a clean and sustainable way to commute, combining a supply to the need for mobility with a shared environment for communal living. We believe supporting asylum seekers and refugees with access to public transportation, not only empowers them to own their choices and create their opportunities, but benefits the environment and creates a new consumer group for the local economy.
Our commitment remains to deliver access to public transportation as the first resolution to promote social interaction. If you want to donate or partner with us to bring public transportation to asylum seekers and refugees, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org or through our form.
31 SEK and 44 SEK: the cost of a single ticket using the SL public transportation system vary based on the way it is purchased. Tickets paid with SL access credit, or reskassa are 31 SEK for adults and 21 SEK for discounted categories. Tickets purchased via the app, ticket machines, ticket booth or ticket agent are 44 SEK for adults and 30 SEK for discounted categories. Long term tickets are available with the purchase of a card (20 SEK) and offer adult and discounted categories. All tickets fares can be checked on the SL website (English).
Clean and Sustainable Way to Commute: In Sweden, trains run by SJ, the government-owned train operator, are powered by renewable electricity, harvested from hydro or wind power, and meet the Swedish Society for Nature Conservation’s “Good Environmental Choice” requirements (the organization’s most stringent eco-label). The Stockholm Public Transport system (SL) combines metro running on green electricity,and buses running on biogas and ethanol. Learn more about public transportation on Sweden's Official Website.
Photography: all images have been kindly offered by J. Michael Haas Photography.