Brookings Report: Time to Fix America’s Broken Transit Policy

Following my post yesterday on Portland’s immense rail transit waste comes this new report from the Brookings Institution. Released today, the report (and this cool interactive map) analyzes U.S. transit systems and their relation to employment access. Some of the key findings:

  • Nearly 70 percent of large metropolitan residents live in neighborhoods with access to transit service of some kind.
  • The typical metropolitan resident can reach about 30 percent of jobs in their metropolitan area via transit in 90 minutes.
  • About one-quarter of jobs in low- and middle-skill industries are accessible via transit within 90 minutes for the typical metropolitan commuter, compared to one-third of jobs in high-skill industries.

Important takeaway: as metropolitan areas continue to suburbanize (including lower-income residents who previously resided in inner cities), the spoke-and-hub model of transit, which relies on monocentric urban land-use patterns, will become less useful for those who can least afford private auto trips. The high-skilled, high-income workers of central cities benefit the most from the status quo, while the increasingly lower- to middle-income suburban residents — who are more and more often finding work in the suburbs, as well — have less access to efficient transit.

As fixed-line (rail) transit best suits the old monocentric model, transit agencies (and, hopefully, private transit companies) will need more flexibility. If governments must spend money on transit authorities, bus rapid transit is obviously the more sensible alternative.

I don’t believe the Brookings authors go far enough in their conclusions or articulate the inconvenient truth that many Americans have rejected transit outright, but it is definitely worth reading. The full report is available for download as a PDF.