Getting to work via public transit– how does your city rank?

The Brookings Institution recently released a report and a very cool interactive map on how well public transit connects people to jobs. As the authors of Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America note, strikingly little is known about how well public transportation connects people to jobs.

How well transit aligns with where people live and work will only grow in importance as the price at the gas pump ticks ever-upward and as more lower- and mid-scale wage earners leave cities for the suburbs, where public transit is less accessible.

According to the report, the typical metropolitan resident can reach about 30% of jobs in their metropolitan area via transit in 90 minutes. It ranges widely, however. Here’s two examples:

Average jobs reached in 90 minutes in Portland/Beaverton metro area (as a share of all metro jobs)

    • Total: 433,624 (40% metro)
    • From low-income: 509,671 (47% metro)
    • From middle-income: 435,524 (40% metro)
    • From high-income: 345,966 (32% metro)

Same story for the Birmingham, Alabama metro area

    • Total: 132,810 (23% metro)
    • From low-income: 148,101 (26% metro)
    • From middle-income: 109,940 (19% metro)
    • From high-income: 125,261 (22% metro)

In fact, metro areas in the western United States have the best transit coverage in the country, while those in the South fare the worst.

Two findings that are particularly interesting include:

    • The typical metropolitan resident can reach about 30% of jobs in their metropolitan area via transit in 90 minutes.
    • About one-quarter of jobs in low- and middle-skill industries are accessible via transit within 90 minutes for the typical metropolitan commuter, compared with one-third of jobs in high-skill industries. As the authors note, “this points to potentially large accessibility problems for workers in growing low-income suburban communities, who on average can access only about 22% of metropolitan jobs in low- and middle-skill industries for which they may be most qualified.”

The implications for  local, regional, state, and national planners?  ”Transportation leaders should make access to jobs an explicit priority in their spending and service decisions, especially given the budget pressures they face. Metro leaders should coordinate strategies regarding land use, economic development, and housing with transit decisions in order to ensure that transit reaches more people and more jobs efficiently. And federal officials should collect and disseminate standardized transit data to enable public, private, and non-profit actors to make more informed decisions and ultimately maximize the benefits of transit for labor markets.”

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