Atlantic Cities

Too Many Metro Areas Are Still Failing to Connect Workers and Jobs

Too Many Metro Areas Are Still Failing to Connect Workers and Jobs
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Most of the nation's metropolitan jobs are located near public transit options. According to a new report from the Brookings Institution, more than 75 percent of all jobs in the largest 100 metropolitan regions of the U.S. are located in areas served by transit. But those transit options aren't particularly good for most workers. Only 27 percent of all workers can access these jobs on transit within 90 minutes. It's a no-brainer that precious few of the other 73 percent are going to be willing to spend more than an hour and a half of bus rides and transfers to get to work every day.

U.S. metro areas have not been very good at creating connections between jobs and the workers who do them. This should be a concern to cities trying to stay competitive. It should also be a major concern to employers.

"Of course people want to find jobs, but employers want to find people just as much," says Adie Tomer, a senior research associate at Brookings and author of the report. "Even if the best people in the world live in your metropolitan region, the question for you as an employer is, can they actually reach your job site?"

If you're an employer in Salt Lake City, things are pretty good. Sixty-four percent of the metro area population has good access to jobs in the region, giving it the top ranking in terms of labor access. Other Western metros, like San Jose, Honolulu, and Tucson also perform relatively well, as do places like Madison and Des Moines. Kansas City, Orlando, and Poughkeepsie, on the other hand, performed poorly in terms of how much of the working population can access jobs via transit. The lowest performing metro, Palm Bay, Florida, has a labor access rate of just 6 percent.

Much of this poor performance can be linked directly to a lack of mass transit that serves suburban populations. That's partly a problem of insufficient transit planning, but also a result of the spreading of both jobs and populations within metropolitan regions. The model of a hub-and-spoke system connecting the suburbs to the city jobs center is becoming irrelevant.

The report suggests that employers and metro areas should begin to think more seriously about ways they can work together to improve accessibility. Tomer says there needs to be more consideration of ideas like private entities helping to build out transit stations in underserved areas, or to complement transit inaccessible areas with company-sponsored mini transit agencies, similar to what Google and Microsoft have done.

It's also important to look at suburb-to-suburb connections, according to Tomer. He says more places should be thinking about connecting these job- and people-centers with options like shuttle services that run between suburbs, one-way car sharing, and even bike sharing for that so-called "last mile" between transit lines.

Places like Denver and Salt Lake City that do well at linking populations and jobs tend to benefit from regional strategies and metropolitan-wide transportation planning efforts. Tomer says these efforts play a big role in making jobs more accessible to people throughout regions.

"In other places, it's totally blown out. The [metropolitan planning organization] may not have much power, you may have multiple MPOs in one metro area, the MPO may be completely divorced from making certain land use and economic development decisions," he says. "That lack of communication and collaboration really is one of the biggest problems we're seeing across the country and one of the biggest indicators of who scores well in our system and who doesn't."

Top image: leungchopan/Shutterstock.com

Nate Berg is a freelance reporter and a former staff writer for The Atlantic Cities. He lives in Los Angeles. All posts »

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