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A Randomized-Controlled Trial of Transportation Subsidies to Reduce Failure to Appear for Pretrial Release
Last registered on November 15, 2019


Trial Information
General Information
A Randomized-Controlled Trial of Transportation Subsidies to Reduce Failure to Appear for Pretrial Release
Initial registration date
November 14, 2019
Last updated
November 15, 2019 10:06 AM EST

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Primary Investigator
University of Notre Dame
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
Stanford University
PI Affiliation
University of California - Irvine
PI Affiliation
University of Notre Dame
Additional Trial Information
In development
Start date
End date
Secondary IDs
Pretrial detention can be costly both for defendants and the judicial system. Studies show that pretrial detention is correlated with adverse family and economic circumstances (Holsinger & Holsinger, 2018). Pretrial detention also strains the jail system, accounting for approximately 95% of the growth in jail population since 2000 (Zeng, 2018). However, pretrial release poses the risk that defendants fail to appear (FTA) for pretrial and subsequent hearings, which is both costly and logistically burdensome to attorneys and courts. Researchers at LEO, UC- Irvine, and Stanford, as well as King County Executive, King County Metro, and the Department of Public Defense, have launched a study to evaluate whether transit subsidies can be an effective tool in reducing the FTA rate among the indigent pre-adjudicated population. In this study, clients being represented by the Department of Public Defense will be randomly selected to receive a subsidized transit card. This intervention will explore how transit subsidies affect appearance at court obligations (including trials, and mandated day reporting), as well as secondary outcomes such as future involvement with the criminal justice system and measures of well-being.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Brough, Rebecca et al. 2019. "A Randomized-Controlled Trial of Transportation Subsidies to Reduce Failure to Appear for Pretrial Release." AEA RCT Registry. November 15. https://doi.org/10.1257/rct.5040-1.0.
Experimental Details
This study will evaluate the impact of transit subsidies on the Failure to Appear (FTA) rate. FTAs occur when individuals do not appear for their scheduled court appointments. In this study, researchers seek to understand to what extent access to transportation is a barrier to appearing in court. In partnership with the Department of Public Defense (DPD), King County Executive, and King County Metro (Metro), the research team will randomly distribute metro cards that provide 2.5 months worth of free transit to a subset of DPD clients at their court hearing. This study will evaluate how receiving a subsidized metro card affects the likelihood of appearing at court obligations.
Intervention Start Date
Intervention End Date
Primary Outcomes
Primary Outcomes (end points)
Our primary outcome is appearance at court obligations. This includes appearance at subsequent hearings and appearance at court-mandated day reporting.
Primary Outcomes (explanation)
Secondary Outcomes
Secondary Outcomes (end points)
There are multiple secondary domains, which are final outcomes that might be directly affected by the subsidy or indirectly affected through reducing FTA. These secondary domains will be measured in the period after pretrial hearings have typically already occurred. These include outcomes related to criminal justice, health, employment, and use of public benefits.

There are multiple exploratory domains that we will use to examine the mechanisms driving the effects on secondary outcomes. These include immediate effects on arrests, employment, health, or benefit use; mobility; and legal representation.
Secondary Outcomes (explanation)
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
This study will operate as a randomized-controlled trial. Each court calendar day has been randomly assigned as a treatment or control day. Eligible clients appearing in court on treatment days will be offered a metro card that provides up to 2.5 months of free public transportation; clients appearing in court on control days will not be offered this transit subsidy. This evaluation will compare outcomes for these two groups of clients.
Experimental Design Details
Not available
Randomization Method
Researchers used a random number generator (the runiform() function) in Stata to assign all business days over the next four years (days between 11/19/2019 and 08/07/2023) a random number between 0-1. This list was then sorted based on this random number. Each day was ranked based on its order in this list. This means that the day assigned the random number closest to 0 was assigned a rank of 1. Each rank was converted to a percentile on the list-- defined as rank divided by the total number of days. Days ranked in the bottom 50% of ranks were assigned to the treatment group. Days ranked above the 50% of ranks were assigned to the control group.
Randomization Unit
Randomization occurs at the day-level. All Monday-Friday court calendar days have been randomly selected to be a treatment day or a control day. On treatment days, all eligible clients will be offered a transit subsidy card. Eligible clients appearing to court on a control day will not be offered a transit subsidy.
Was the treatment clustered?
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
428 days over 14 months; the number of clusters will increase if the enrollment period expands beyond 14 months to reach 4,000 participants.
Sample size: planned number of observations
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
2,000 participants in the control group (214 control clusters); 2,000 participants in the treatment group (214 treatment clusters).

Note, as previously stated, the number of clusters (i.e. the number of enrollment days) may increase to accommodate enrolling 4,000 participants.
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
Based on an estimate of the FTA rate for clients’ first post-arraignment hearing of 36%, this sample will provide sufficient power to detect a reduction of 4.6 percentage points (13%).
IRB Name
University of Notre Dame Research Compliance
IRB Approval Date
IRB Approval Number
Analysis Plan

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