Commuter transit effectiveness ranked as need only grows

Posted on May 13, 2011 by Nicole Schlosser

Earlier this week, when independent public policy think tank The Brookings Institution released its report, “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America,” transit agencies across the U.S. received a report card of sorts for the services they provide commuters. Judging from the many news stories that ensued, from Philadelphia to Denver to Los Angeles, the grades were a mixed bag.

Newspaper stories and blogs tended to focus on the numbered rank assigned to their city. However, there is so much more to this report than just a list. It also provides background on factors that influence the reach and efficiency of transit in metropolitan areas; an analysis of data from 371 transit providers in the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas; and implications for policymakers, employers and workers.

The report found that in these areas, nearly 70 percent of working-age people live in neighborhoods that offer transit service. The findings concluded that transportation leaders need to do more to make access to jobs a priority in budget and service decisions, especially with their budgets becoming more and more limited.

Recommendations for metropolitan transit agencies included coordinating land use strategies, economic development and housing with transit decisions, “to ensure that transit reaches more people and more jobs efficiently. And federal officials should collect and disseminate standardized transit data to enable public, private, and non-profit actors to make more informed decisions and ultimately maximize the benefits of transit for labor markets.”

“When it comes to the question of how effectively transit connects people and jobs within and across these metropolitan areas, strikingly little is known,” the study pointed out. “There is no comprehensive national database of the spatial geography of transit service.”

The timing of the release of the study was interesting, considering that this week House Republicans announced plans to cut transportation spending in 2012 (see the sixth paragraph and mark-up schedule), — even as rising gas prices are causing a significant increase in public transit use — and Congress debated whether to cut tax breaks for the five largest oil companies. It didn’t seem likely, despite the harsh words many democrats had for the top execs they grilled. Hopefully, though, news reports on the study reminded the public just how important public transportation is to our economy and communities.

I’d like to know what you think, as professionals in the public transit field, about the Brookings report. What was your reaction to the results?

In case you missed it...

Read our METRO blog, "Is public transit security tough enough?" here.

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