New study ranks L.A. metro area 3rd in U.S. in connecting people to jobs via transit


The darker the shade of orange and red, the more jobs that can be reached within 30 minutes using transit. Click above to see larger. Source: University of Minnesota Center for Transportation Studies.

Los Angeles

Earlier this month, the University of Minnesota released a study that found that the Los Angeles metro area ranks third behind New York and San Francisco when it comes to the number of jobs reachable by transit within an hour’s time. The study looked at 46 of the 50 largest metro areas in the United States and Metro scored better than some older cities with established transit systems — places such as Chicago, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington.

Here’s the top 10 according to the study through January 2014:

  1. New York
  2. San Francisco
  3. Los Angeles
  4. Washington
  5. Chicago
  6. Boston
  7. Philadelphia
  8. Seattle
  9. Denver
  10. San Jose

I wasn’t surprised that the Los Angeles area was in the top 10. After all, we live in the nation’s second-largest metropolis and our region — despite is reputation for traffic — boasts a considerable amount of transit. Metro, for example, runs the nation’s second-largest bus system in terms of ridership behind only New York. That said, I was mildly surprised to see that our metro area ranked third.

I asked study co-author Andrew Owen, the director of the Accessibility Observatory for the University of Minnesota, if the results surprised him. The answer: not really. His main points were:

•The Los Angeles region has a ton of jobs — vastly more than many other metro areas in the U.S.

•Because of geography — i.e., mountains and oceans — we’re actually more densely populated across the metro area than (for example) a place such as Chicago, which
doesn’t have anything to constrain its sprawl.

•The Los Angeles region actually has a lot of transit (particularly buses) although that is often overlooked because of the region’s reputation for traffic. On that note, I’ll add this: Metro is just one of many bus providers in our region and Metro’s bus ridership alone is the second highest in the nation behind only New York City.

“Los Angeles has a lot of stuff — a lot of jobs and a lot of people,” Owen said. “Of course, it would be possible to have a city and a lot of people and none of them could get anywhere by transit. But look at downtown Los Angeles and the areas south and west. There are huge amounts of jobs that people can reach by transit because transit is run there. If transit wasn’t there or it wasn’t run frequently and didn’t connect people to jobs, this ranking would be far lower than it is.”

Owen also pointed to another interesting thing captured by the numbers: while our region ranked second in the number of jobs, it ranked third in terms of transit accessibility to them. That suggests that the L.A. area has some catching up to do in terms of reaching more jobs via transit. Still, Owen said, we’re already better off than a place such as the Atlanta region that ranked ninth in the total number of jobs and 30th in terms of accessibility.

I also asked Owen if about the map at the top of this post. It’s important to understand what it shows: the areas that are darker shades of orange and red are the ones that are closest to the most jobs via a 30-minute transit ride or less (it doesn’t matter whether it’s train or bus). That’s why the areas around downtown Los Angeles and the Westside — the number one and two jobs areas in our region — are so dark. They’re near a lot of jobs and there’s enough transit to reach those jobs.

The map also suggests that the Measure R-funded transit projects that Metro is building or plans to build are serving a real purpose — better connecting our region to jobs. Look at the “Under Construction” map after the jump.

Click above to see larger version of the map.

Click above to see larger version of the map.

Now, let’s take a look at how some of the Measure R projects will help riders reach jobs.

•The Purple Line Extension will directly connect downtown Los Angeles to Westwood via Boulevard with a short detour to Century City. The project also provides a direct link between our region’s largest transit hub — Los Angeles Union Station — and the Westside.

•The Expo Line’s second phase connects Santa Monica, West L.A. and downtown L.A. via Culver City, the northern part of South L.A. and Exposition Park. In particular, it will serve the job-rich Media Gulch area, downtown Santa Monica, downtown Culver City and Exposition Park — and bring all those areas closer to downtown L.A. via rail transit.

•The Regional Connector will link the Gold Line, Blue Line and Expo Line in downtown L.A. and allow easier and faster access to and through downtown L.A. for riders on all three lines.

•The Gold Line Foothill Extension extends the Gold Line to the Azusa/Glendora border, making for easier and faster access to jobs in the Pasadena area, downtown L.A. and beyond (i.e. the Westside). Meanwhile, the second phase of the Eastside Gold Line is being studied and could potentially connect either South El Monte or Whittier to downtown L.A. via this project and the Regional Connector.

•The Crenshaw/LAX Line will serve a north-south corridor starting at the Green Line’s Redondo Beach Station and extending north to the Expo Line, including the job-rich area around the airport. The Expo Line, in turn, offers east-west access to jobs. The map also suggests that extending the Crenshaw/LAX Line north — a project in Metro’s long-range plan but unfunded at this time — would connect people to more jobs to the east and west via the Purple Line. A South Bay Green Line Extension, a project also to be funded by Measure R, could extend the Crenshaw/LAX Line and Green Line deeper into the South Bay.

•The map also suggests that connecting the San Fernando Valley to the Westside via the Sepulveda Pass Transit Corridor project makes sense. The map also shows that the Warner Center area is one of the more job rich areas in the Valley, thereby suggesting that pursuing improvements to the Orange Line serves a purpose, as does connecting the Burbank-Glendale-Pasadena areas by a potential bus rapid transit line. See this recent Source post for more about that.

Obviously not everyone lives and/or works close to transit and that’s a deal breaker for many who may ride transit. The Metro Board earlier this year did adopt a First Last Mile Strategic Plan to help riders get to and from stations. That along with transit expansion, I think, should bring more jobs closer to more riders and also provide our region with more transit-adjacent areas to build more jobs in the future.

As always, your thoughts? Do the results of the University of Minnesota study ring true to you? Do you think Measure R projects will help commuters?



27 replies

  1. “Metro’s bus ridership alone is the second highest in the nation behind only New York City.”

    But behind Chicago Transit Agency (CTA) in total ridership. Some 44% of all CTA passengers are “L” riders. Bus ridership appears to be about the same on a per capita metropolitan area basis.

    Really third in the nation despite the Los Angeles Metropolitan area being one-third larger than the Chicagoland metropolitan area.

    The difference? Chicago kept it’s elevated rapid transit lines and even slowly expanded them during the 1940’s, 1950’s and 1960’s at a time when most of the rest of the country was abandoning rail for the automobile and even New York City was demolishing elevated lines on Manhattan . Los Angeles,during this period, of course, was dismantling what had at one time been described as the most advanced state of the art electric rail transit system in the world (in 1912).

  2. We are also behind in bike infrastructure. For being the second largest metro region, we do not even have a working bike share network. I’m glad Metro is taking the lead on that one though, but why two years?

  3. Great news for our region. I imagine LA’s ranking would have been boosted further if the study had included transit services provided by the Los Angeles Department of Transportation, the county’s second largest transit operator. LADOT’s Commuter Express and DASH routes complement and support Metro’s regional transit network by providing express bus service for workers as well as first mile/last mile connections to Metro Rail, Metro Busway and Metrolink stations throughout Los Angeles County.

  4. So lucky. Walk to work, twelve minutes. I eat lunch at home. Love it.

  5. If no Pink Line subway, which seems like it’s way down on the list, how about a Pink Line BRT? The median on San Vicente is made for it. Getting it from Beverly Hills up to the Red Line at Hollywood/Highland via surface streets would be a bear though.

  6. Also, hopefully we’ll get to #2 by 2020 once the basic rail system is in place. If we’re at #2 with the longer commutes, replacing many of the bus trips with rail trips should reduce those travel times and hopefully result in much better accessibility in the 30 minute range.

  7. Just a note maybe for the next generation of the map, it looks like “South Los Angeles” could fit into the space between the Crenshaw and Silver Lines and it would seem to me to make more sense to label the area above and at the end of the Purple Line as “West Los Angeles” as that would describe the larger area served by that extension and “Westwood” is already marked in the names of a couple of the stops.

  8. I have a feeling the LA region would be ranked much higher if they included Long Beach Transit in their study, only because not including that would falsely show a couple hundred thousand people aren’t close to transit.

    • Hi John;

      Good point. My hunch is that it wouldn’t have changed the scores dramatically but it might have changed some. As you observed, the Long Beach metro area’s jobs were considered in the study but not the timetables for Long Beach Transit.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

  9. Just a clarification: the 3rd place is a weighted average that gives higher weight to shorter commute times. L.A. actually ranks 2nd when it comes to jobs accessible within 60 minutes, but only 6th or below for jobs accessible within 30 minutes or less. So the typical transit commuter in Boston, Chicago or Washington can access a greater total number of jobs within 30 minutes, despite the fact that L.A. has more jobs than these metro areas.

    And the real outlier in the data is San Francisco, which ranks 11th for total jobs but 2nd for accessibility up to 50 minutes, dropping down to 3rd at 60.

    • Great points, Ron! Metro should make it a goal to improve the 30 minute ranking into the top 3.

  10. Fantastic!! R, (and hopefully R Plus…) will certainly help commuters! Great news with this study on connectivity.

    It seems though that building the “Pink Line” (or any derivative thereof) would help with moving tourists. We would have connections to The Grove / Beverly Center, Sunset Strip, WeHo, and if we connect the Crenshaw to the Purple, a direct shot from LAX to those areas.

  11. “The Los Angeles region has a ton of jobs — vastly more than many other metro areas in the U.S.”

    And majority of those jobs are minimum wage jobs for multinational chain stores like BestBuy, Staples, Chipotle, Carl’s Jr., Wendy’s, McDonald’s, etc. etc. all spread out throughout the Southland. Not a real long term, high value, long term job like actually manufacturing something, and definitely not jobs where people take transit to work.

    Wake me up when we actually get manufacturing back to LA, like Kinkisharyo and saying no more to demands by greedy unions who do nothing but cause trouble. If LA really cared about jobs and transit, we’d have more manufacturing jobs here that relate to transit. How about bringing Cubic plant here? Or building manufacturing of buses here? How about hiring more high tech manufacturing jobs here instead of shipping those jobs off to China?

    “Because of geography — i.e., mountains and oceans — we’re actually more densely populated across the metro area than (for example) a place such as Chicago, which doesn’t have anything to constrain its sprawl.”

    Yet we keep on sprawling and sprawling all the way out to neighboring counties because our zoning laws prohibit higher density multi-use development.

    • Hi;

      Please post the source for the assertion that most of the jobs are for multinational chains. I’m not sure that’s correct although our region — as with other parts of the country — certainly has low-paying jobs.

      Steve Hymon
      Editor, The Source

      • I agree with Steve…seems like just another angry individual who turns to the Source blog to vent

      • Steve,

        Read page 37-38 of Industry and Labor Market Intelligence for LA County on what the majority of jobs LA County are.

        Manufacturing jobs only consist of 12.5% jobs in LA County, 72.6% are service sector jobs, 14.9% are government jobs.

        The largest private sector industry is “food services and catering services” making up 7.4% of employment in Los Angeles County, or 286,090 jobs in LA County. The 2nd largest is professional and technical services, the third largest is administrative and support services. Basically, the three largest jobs in LA is the service sector.

        • Thanks for looking that up and posting the numbers. Obviously, I’m surprised — I didn’t expect service sector to be that high and manufacturing that low. What does “professional and technical services” mean?

          Steve Hymon
          Editor, The Source

      • It’s actually not that surprising Steve. I think everyone kinda knew that manufacturing is low in Los Angeles. We’re not a city or country of makers anymore, we’re conspicuous consumers. When was the last time you saw or bought something “Made in Los Angeles, CA”

        Practically everything high-tech we own is all Made in Japan, Taiwan, China, Korea, Thailand, or Malaysia. Our clothes are Made in Vietnam, Honduras, El Salvador, India and Bangladesh. We import our oil from the Middle East. Even your own equipment that Metro uses is all imported. You import trains from Japan, Germany and Italy. You import tunnel boring machines from the Netherlands. Your Metro Ford Escape Hybrids are likely made in Mexico. The computer that you use to post The Source articles are filled with components that are made abroad.

        There’s very few things anymore that are still Made in USA let alone can’t even recall anything that’s made right here in Los Angeles, CA.

        The scary fact is that there’s more government jobs here in LA than manufacturing jobs. Basically, there’s more people on taxpayer payroll than people making stuff here in LA.

        • Hey Metro Rider;

          Sitting next to the Apple computer that I’m typing this on is a mess of Nikon camera gear. Your point is well taken!

          Steve Hymon
          Editor, The Source

    • So, on one hand complain that people are in minimum wage jobs, then on the other hand call unions greedy? That makes no sense. Are you saying that collective bargaining drives down wages?

      • I think the point that the OP is making is that the economic policies of California supported by union labor is not working and actually having a negative impact in true job growth here. It is true that companies that once used to thrive in California are leaving to other right-to-work states (which CA is not), leaving only low end minimum wage jobs that really do not advance or help people’s careers.

        It comes no surprise to anyone that there aren’t manufacturing jobs here in LA. I surely don’t see Apple iPads and Dell Computers being built right here in the Southland. I don’t see Nike shoes or trains being built here.

        Are unions really helping jobs in California or are they hurting jobs instead? Sounds to me from the Kinkisharyo fiasco, they aren’t helping us at all. Kinkisharyo doesn’t need CA, we need them. And the Palmdale unions demanding that Kinkisharyo should be forced to open a plant here whether they like it or not pretty much puts me and many people off in supporting unions. You can’t force others do what you want them to do, it should be a choice. It’s Kinkisharyo’s choice whether or not to do business here in CA, if they don’t like the business environment, that’s their choice to do so. After all, we’re not a totalitarian society where people should be forced to do something they don’t agree with.

  12. I’m curious, Metro reports ridership stats every month. Do all the other major transit agencies in the LA Metro area do the same? Currently about 1.3 million people use LA Metro bus and rail system. Curious to see the numbers reported from Metrolink and other transit agencies combined.

    • The Federal Transit Administration of the US Dept. of Transportation maintains the Federal Transit Database::

      An annual summarization of data is the annual transit agency profiles posted on the website. The latest is for 2012::

      Full Profiles for 542 transit agencies in the United States are given including every transit agency of any size in Los Angeles County including .Metrolink, Santa Monica Big Blue Bus, Long Beach Transit, Foothill Transit, City of Los Angeles DOT, and Montebello Bus Lines to name the larger agencies that gave independent reports other than LACMTA.

      I did some rough calculations using FTA data from their profiles and estimate that roughly 20% of all passenger trips on public transit in Los Angeles County are with public transit agencies other than LACMTA… I estimate 1.6 million passenger trips daily in L.A. County on public transit..