Detroit area lags in jobs served by public transit

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Courtesy of The Detroit Free Press

Metro Detroit ranks below average among the nation’s 100 largest metropolitan areas in the percentage of its jobs served by public transit, with job growth happening in the suburbs but with shrinking options for suburbanites and city dwellers to get to them, a new study released today found.

The Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program released “Where the Jobs Are: Employer Access to Labor by Transit,” a look at how well public transit systems serve employers.

Metro Detroit ranked 63rd out of the 100 largest metro areas. That percentage is a blend of the coverage rate in the city of Detroit, where more than 99% of jobs are in districts served by public bus systems, and suburbia, where just 56% of jobs are in districts served by transit.

That pattern was repeated across the country, where jobs in cities were generally served by nearby public transit, with suburban employers less well served. That gap presents a growing problem in many cities like Detroit, where the vast majority of jobs are found in suburban areas.

But even Detroit’s below-average ranking at 63rd may obscure deeper transit problems in the southeast Michigan region. This region’s two bus systems — the Detroit Department of Transportation and the suburban-based SMART system — operate separately at a cost in efficiency. And budget cutbacks have cut back the hours of operation in the DDOT system, making it harder for workers to get to jobs.

Source: Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program

“The first thing that it tells me is that we don’t have as much public transit in southeast Michigan as we need,” said Carmine Palombo, director of transportation for the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments, the regional planning agency.

“To get to some of these jobs you have to have good reliable on-time service that starts early in the morning, or late-night service in order to get home from the job in the evening,” he added.

Local and state officials have been negotiating in recent months to create a regional transportation authority and a bus rapid-transit line to run up and down Woodward Avenue. If achieved and expanded, as planners hope, the system would help to better connect workers and jobs, Palombo said.

Among the nuggets of data found in the Brookings report: The nation’s average distance to work jumped from 9.9 miles in 1983 to 13.3 miles in 2009.

Meanwhile, as solo drivers topped 74% of all commuters, the average number of hours wasted in traffic increased from 14 hours in 1982 to 34 hours in 2010.

The study recommended that metropolitan leaders address suburban coverage gaps as well as disconnected neighborhoods in the city. And decisions should be made as part of an overall planning program that connects transit planners with experts from various public agencies and the private sector.

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