Public Transit Best Vehicle for Economic Recovery

An overseen benefit of public transit is the creation and retention of sustainable jobs.  On January 5, 2010, the Center for Neighborhood Technology, Smart Growth America, and U.S. PIRG released What We Learned from the Stimulus, a study that concluded that public transportation generates more jobs than highway construction, although highway construction received more American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds than public transit. 

Public Transit as a Recession Fighter:  In fact, the data showed that ARRA’s investment in public transportation produced twice as many jobs per dollar as investing in roads.  For every billion dollars spent on public transportation, 16,419 jobs were created whereas only 8,781 jobs were produced for every billion dollars spent on projects for highways infrastructure programs.  Another study conducted by the American Public Transit Association further concluded that 30,000 jobs are created when $1 billion is invested in public transportation.  

It is estimated that the average American household spends 19% of its income in transportation; in contrast, a resident who rides mass transit spends only 9% of his or her income on transportation.  A 4% increase in transit ridership in 2008 demonstrates that public transportation an an alternative to cope during the current economic crisis. Environmental protection is another important motive to switch from private to public transportation. The Urban Land Institute reports that transportation is the largest producer of carbon dioxide emissions in the United States. Numerous studies indicate that energy consumption decreases with transit use: investments in public transportation can reduce greenhouse emissions by 24% by 2050.   

Why Transit Gets the Most Jobs Bang for the Buck:  What We Learned from the Stimulus outlines three primary reasons why public transit investment creates more stable jobs: (1) lesser expenses on land acquisition, (2) the complexities of the projects, and (3) maintenance of public modes of transportation.  Jobs in public transportation are not only comprised of the installation of machinery, but also on their upkeep, dispatch, and operation.  For every transportation-related device that is installed, at least four different job opportunities are created.  Further, transit operations produce 72% more jobs than transit capital investment.  In contrast to road construction, investment in transit transportation creates a stable job market. 

Transit oriented investment is a comprehensive economic solution that serves as a catalyst for further community development.  For example, New Jersey’s Urban Transit Hub Tax Credit Act has attracted businesses and jobs to transit-accessible locations in Newark and Trenton.  Also in Denver, Colorado, the light rail transit system has proven to increase business development near rail stations. 

Critically, public transit development also contributes to the preservation of jobs outside of the transportation sector.  Thanks to a more reliable mode of transportation, more commuters, such as non-drivers, can access jobs they would not be able to get to without public transit.  Further, public transit increases community livability and improves the health of  individuals who cannot go to schools, hospitals, or other needed services by their own means.

The economic benefits from public transit more than repay cost investments. For instance, rail transit services are estimated to provide $19.4 billion in annual congestion cost savings, $8.0 billion in roadway cost savings, $12.1 billion in parking cost savings, $22.6 billion in consumer cost savings, and $5.6 billion in traffic accident cost savings. Rail transit also tends to provide economic development benefits, increasing business activity, and tax revenues.

The Public Supports Public Transit:  Over half of Americans polled said that they would take mass transit if it were more easily accessible from their homes or where they work.   Two in three said the rising price of gasoline makes them more likely to consider using mass transit and 44% would be willing to pay higher taxes if they knew all of the added taxes were being sent on improving or creating public transportation where they live. 

Ultimately, the public recognizes that public transit is not only an investment  for those who work, operate, and maintain the public transit system, but a much needed support for the businesses that surround these areas and for riders who need to commute to their jobs. Given this public support and the disproportionate economic gains, public transit should be receiving more than the one sixth of the federal money apportioned toward highway construction that it currently receives.


The Center for Neighborhood Technology, Smart Growth America, and U.S. PIRG - What We Learned from the Stimulus
The Urban Land Institute - New Urban Land Institute Publication, Moving Cooler, Underscores Critical Role of Sustainable Land Use in Mitigating Climate Change Research Measures Impact of Various Strategies to Cut Vehicle Carbon Emissions
The Center for State Innovation — Transit Oriented Development
StreetsBlog.Org - Transit Fare Inflation Hitting Health Insurance-Like Levels?
The Apollo Alliance - Public Transportation Investments Can Save Consumers $112 Billion
Zogby International - U.S. Conference of Mayors/Zogby Poll: Most Americans Believe ”˜Going Green’ Will Create Jobs, Improve Communities