STUDY: America’s Public Transportation Systems Struggle To Connect Workers To Jobs

Most workers face long, troublesome commutes if they try to use public transportation to access jobs, even though most jobs are technically accessible by public transportation, according to a new study from the Brookings Institution.

Nearly three-quarters of American jobs are near public transportation, but thanks to suburbanization of both jobs and households, barely a quarter of Americans can access those jobs in less than 90 minutes via public transportation, the report found:

The typical job is accessible to only about 27 percent of its metropolitan workforce by transit in 90 minutes or less. Labor access varies considerably from a high of 64 percent in metropolitan Salt Lake City to a low of 6 percent in metropolitan Palm Bay, refl ecting differences in both transit provision, job concentration, and land use patterns. City jobs are consistently accessible to larger shares of metropolitan labor pools than suburban jobs, reinforcing cities’ geographic advantage relative to transit routing.

Access to both transit and a job might not be a big deal to the average car-owning American worker. For poorer Americans, though, the struggle to use public transportation to get to work restricts which jobs they can take. “The costs of owning and operating a vehicle are such that ten percent of American households in the nation’s largest metro areas do not have access to a private vehicle,” the report states. “Compared to their car-owning counterparts, zero-vehicle households are more likely to earn low incomes, live in cities, and take public transportation to work.”

The report also found that reliance on automobiles to commute to work has important consequences for both commuters and businesses. The average commute has jumped by 3.5 miles in the last 30 years, from 9.9 miles in 1983 to 13.3 miles today. A steady rise in gas prices means a longer commute costs drivers money, and businesses lose money too, thanks to reduced productivity and the necessity of increased wages to compensate for commuter costs.

“Improving metro areas’ transit access could be as simple as running more buses and trains,” the report says. “Yet a serious public funding crisis limits agencies’ ability to expand their service and enhance connections between jobs and households Instead, revenue declines are widespread and many agencies are already planning fare increases and operating cuts to close yawning budget gaps. … It becomes critical then for the nation to focus on smart transit investments, specifically those that coordinate with other transportation and land use decisions.”