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Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America

An article that appeared in Area Development magazine, April/May 2009 entitled "Transit-Oriented Development As Economic Stimulus" noted that developments near public transportation hubs attract quality workers and provide opportunities for public-private partnerships - a win-win situation for companies and communities. The findings drew on a study by the Transit Cooperative Research Project (TCRP) entitled "Transit-Oriented Development in the United States: Experiences, Challenges, and Prospects."

Now, a new study from Brookings reinforces this view, revealing that public transit is a critical part of the economic and social fabric of metropolitan areas. Of the nearly 30 million daily trips using public transit, almost all occur in the nation's 100 largest metro areas. According to the study, the most common reason people take public transit is to get to work.

However, no one has yet addressed the question of how effectively transit connects people and jobs within and across these metropolitan areas. In light of budget cuts by all levels of government, finding an answer to this question has taken on more urgency.

With this in mind, the Metropolitan Policy Program has developed a comprehensive database offering a detailed look at transit coverage and connectivity across and within the nation's major metro areas. An analysis of data from 371 transit providers in the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas points to the following findings:

• Nearly 70 percent of large metropolitan residents live in neighborhoods with access some kind of transit service.

• In such neighborhoods, morning rush hour service occurs about once every 10 minutes for the typical commuter.

• The typical metropolitan resident can reach about 30 percent of jobs in their metro area via transit in 90 minutes.

• About 25 percent 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 the jobs in high-skill industries.

• Fifteen of the 20 metro areas that rank highest on a combined score of transit coverage and job access are in the West.

The Brookings study concludes that 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. Additionally, having access to standardized transit data would enable public, private, and non-profit entities to make more informed decisions and ultimately maximize the benefits of transit for labor markets.

The TCRP study similarly concluded that communities have found transit-oriented development investment to be useful in attracting direct investment and in growing locally owned businesses, providing jobs and increasing employment and, in turn, tax revenues.

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