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Missed opportunity: Transit and jobs in metropolitan America

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Public transportation use varies widely across the United States, from small towns with few transit options to dense metropolitan areas with extensive subway, train and bus systems. Even in cities with similar transit systems, use can vary significantly, and some systems do not efficiently connect where people live to where they work.

To better understand the connection between transit availability and usage, the Brookings Institution examined 371 transit providers in the 100 largest metropolitan areas of the United States. The findings of its 2011 report, “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan American,” include:

  • Nearly 70% of residents of large metropolitan areas have access to transit of some kind. Overall, city residents have better access than those living in suburbs.
  • During morning rush hour, residents of the 23 largest metropolitan areas had an average transit frequency of under 10 minutes. On average, transit frequency in cities was twice that in suburbs.
  • Overall, only 30% of jobs in metropolitan areas can be reached by transit within 90 minutes. Access varies significantly, from 60% in Honolulu to 7% in Palm Bay, Florida; Washington and New York average 37%. Factors include transit coverage, service frequencies and density.
  • About 33% of high-skill jobs can be accessed by transit within 90 minutes, compared to 25% of low- and middle-skill jobs. Residents of low-income suburban communities fared even worse, with only 22% having access to jobs in low- and middle-skill industries.
  • The top transit performers were New York City; Portland, Oregon; San Francisco; and Washington, D.C.. Other notable cities included Salt Lake City, Tucson, Fresno and Las Vegas.

The study’s authors conclude that “transportation leaders should make access to jobs an explicit priority in their spending and service decisions,” while city leaders should “coordinate strategies regarding land use, economic development, and housing with transit decisions.” The federal government also has a role, including making standardized data available to ensure that “more informed decisions and ultimately maximize the benefits of transit for labor markets.”

Tags: cars, congestion, employment, inequality, infrastructure, mass transit

    Writer: | Last updated: June 3, 2011

    Citation: Tomer, Adie, et al. "Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America," Brookings Institution, May, 2011, PDF.

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the Brookings Institution study "Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America."

    1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
    3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

    Read the issue-related New York Times article "Obama Offers a Transit Plan to Create Jobs."

    1. If you were to rewrite the article based on knowledge of the study, what key changes would you make?

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.