The Society for Social Work and Research

2014 Annual Conference

January 15-19, 2014 I Grand Hyatt San Antonio I San Antonio, TX

Navigating Uncertainty: A Grounded Theory of Public Transportation Dependence

Friday, January 17, 2014: 2:30 PM
Marriott Riverwalk, River Terrace, Upper Parking Level, Elevator Level P2 (San Antonio, TX)
* noted as presenting author
Susan P. Robbins, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Saralyn McIver, PhD, Recent Doctoral Graduate, University of Houston, Houston, TX
Purpose:  Public transportation is a crucial link for client access to mental health, medical, and/or social services, and is often cited as a barrier, especially for those living in poverty. This is particularly problematic in communities with less population density, and where private car use is most common. Although prior studies have demonstrated transportation to be a barrier to service acquisition, little research has sought to define the problem from the perspective of those dependent on public transportation, and access to services remains a social justice issue.  The purpose of this qualitative grounded theory (GT) study was to develop a theory involving basic social processes by examining the experiences and main concern of Houston’s public transit dependents and determining how they constantly resolve this concern.

Methods:  Utilizing classic GT methodology, adjusted conversational interviews were conducted with 31 participants who were recruited via purposeful, snowball, and theoretical sampling.   Most were involved with one of three Houston-based agencies that agreed to facilitate participant recruitment.  The final sample consisted of 25 persons who were public transportation dependent and 6 helping professionals who worked with this population. Interviews were conducted at multiple sites between September 2011 and September 2012, and field notes were taken during the interviews. The initial spill question was, “Can you tell me about your experience on the bus?” Subsequent questions were based on the participants’ responses.  Within 24 hours of each interview, line-by-line analysis was conducted for open category development. Other GT methods used were simultaneous data collection, coding, memoing, sorting, member checking, and the constant comparison method was used throughout. Data analysis resulted in a theory that involves a three-stage process.

Results:  The main concern of the participants was how the lack of control they experience while using public transportation leads to uncertainty in every aspect of their lives. The theory of Navigating Uncertainty is comprised of interdependent categories that together create a basic social process. The authors will present a detailed description of this theory, which consists of three stages: a) Acknowledging Lack of Control and Anticipating Uncertainty, b) Confronting Uncertainty and Remaining Resilient, and c) Cultivating and Utilizing Connection. These stages are characterized by different challenges, strategies, and sub-stages, which will be discussed more fully in this presentation.

Implications:  The basic social process detailed by this theory provides helping professionals a basis for intervention when working with public transportation dependent clients, or clients with co-occurring uncertainties. This research highlights the need for community integrated social programs so that transportation, housing, employment, education, medical and social services, among others, are part of an integrated system that aims to ensure access for of low income clients.   Although this process was discovered in a sample of public transportation users, it has the potential to be applicable to anyone who is either contemplating or acting under conditions of uncertainty. The authors discuss detailed implications for social work practice, agency policy, urban planners, as well as hypotheses for future research.