Is transit connecting people to jobs in America?

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A fascinating study was released by the Brookings Institution today that details how transit connects Americans to their jobs. The overall conclusion: not so well in many parts of the country and the reason that Brookings calls the study “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America.”

To quote the study, “The typical metropolitan resident can reach about 30 percent of jobs in their metropolitan area via transit in 90 minutes.” Which, perhaps, helps explain why about 86 percent of Americans choose to drive to work and 75 percent drive alone, according to the Census Bureau.

As the above chart shows, the Los Angeles metro area is slightly below that at 26 percent. Or, to put it another way, about one in four  L.A. metro area jobs are reachable via transit within 90 minutes. In case you’re curious, that number is 37 percent in the New York metro area (check out other areas on this interactive feature).

All this helps explain why Brookings is calling for increased investment in transit in America. Good luck with that: House Republicans this week called for cutting transportation spending.

The study also shows that overall the L.A. area’s transit system has pretty good reach and frequency. I expect the 26 percent number here and elsewhere reflects the sprawling nature of America’s metro areas and how difficult it is to connect them.

Of course, that was also the point behind the Measure R sales tax increase approved by voters in L.A. County in 2008 to build more transit. Once fully implemented, the transit part of Measure R should greatly increase the bus and rail network here and hopefully speed up travel times by reducing transfer times and putting more passengers on faster trains.

Among the projects that will serve big job centers: the Westside Subway Extension, the second phase of the Expo Line, the Foothill Extension of the Gold Line, the Crenshaw/LAX Line and the Orange Line Extension which will better connect the Chatsworth Metrolink station to Warner Center.

As for the Brookings study, a few other key findings:

•”Nearly 70 percent of large metropolitan residents live in neighborhoods with access to transit service of some kind. Transit coverage is highest in Western metro areas such as Honolulu and Los Angeles, and lowest in Southern metro areas such as Chattanooga and Greenville.”

•”In neighborhoods covered by transit, morning rush hour service occurs about once every 10 minutes for the typical metropolitan commuter. In less than one quarter of large metro areas (23), however, is this typical service frequency, or “headway,” under 10 minutes. These include very large metro areas such as New York, Los Angeles, Houston, and Washington. Transit services city residents on average almost twice as frequently as suburban residents.”

•”Fifteen of the 20 metro areas that rank highest on a combined score of transit coverage and job access are in the West. Top performers include metro areas with noted transit systems such as New York, Portland, San Francisco, and Washington, but also Salt Lake City, Tucson, Fresno, and Las Vegas. Conversely, 15 of the 20 metro areas that rank lowest are in the South.”

The video below features Robert Puentes, one of the study’s authors.

2 replies

  1. Is it a lack of transit access to jobs…or is the problem that jobs are moving to places where there are more car amenities (i.e. larger parking lots, garages, wider roads, suburbs, etc..) and not in urban areas where transit is more abundant?

  2. Don’t forget to account for the fact that many people CHOOSE to live far away from work. Transit is less effective at these distances. Heck, driving is not much more effective at these distances either.