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Sprawling Jobs Tough Task for Transit

New Brookings research on transit and access to jobs enables for the first time metro to metro comparisons on transit performance. One question quickly emerges: Do metro areas with well-established transit systems provide the best access to jobs?

We know that some of the largest metro areas are home to the best known and most used transit systems in the country. Several are at the vanguard of innovative planning and land use strategies. These metros are also some of the country’s most powerful economic engines.

However, we were surprised to find uneven results in these places. Well-known rail systems in Chicago and Philadelphia trailed overall access levels in Los Angeles, the archetypal auto-oriented metropolis. Boston’s classic T system doesn't match the access in mostly bus-reliant Seattle. What's going on here?

One explanation is that many of the largest metros face serious job sprawl. Separate research by our co-author Elizabeth Kneebone shows that more than 68 percent of Chicago's jobs are more than 10 miles from the central business district, and in Philadelphia it’s over 63 percent. That's a huge share of jobs away from the city center--and disconnected from the collection points of their classic hub-and-spoke transit systems. Many of the other large metros with low job access experience similarly high job sprawl--Dallas (67 percent), Atlanta (63 percent), and Miami (63 percent).

Fortunately, these large metros still provide access to a very large number of jobs (see this table). In fact, of all the metro jobs reached by transit in the 100 largest metros, 37.5 percent of them are found in just these ten metros in the table. But if those jobs continue to decentralize they will be increasingly difficult to reach by transit in a reasonable amount of time.