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New Brookings Report Looks at Access to Public Transportation and Jobs Among Those Who Don't Own Cars

Yesterday, the Brookings Institution released a new report focusing on access to public transportation among those who do not own a vehicle. The report, “Transit Access and Zero-Vehicle Households,” reveals that approximately 700,000 American households don’t own a car and also don’t have access to public transportation in their neighborhood. Over 7.5 million households do not own a car in the largest 100 metro areas, representing 10% of all households in these metro areas. To reach these and other findings, Brookings collected data from the American Community Survey and 371 transit providers that serve the 100 largest metropolitan areas in the United States. The report is a follow-up to Brookings’ report on access to jobs via transit, “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America,” which revealed that 70% of people live in neighborhoods with public transportation, yet only 30% of jobs are accessible via public transportation within a 90-minute commute. This follow-up report paints a somewhat rosier picture for households who don’t own a car—90% live in neighborhoods with public transportation, and 40% of jobs are accessible via public transportation within a 90-minute commute. When one looks at the details, however, there are still major disparities between those households living in the city versus the suburbs, as well as between different geographic regions. Access also varies by income and race/ethnicity.

Cities vs. suburbs: Most zero-vehicle households live in the city—61.7% live in the 132 primary cities of the 100 largest metro areas. Households living in these primary cities have far better access to transit than those living in the suburbs—99.2% in the cities vs. 58% in the suburbs. In 31 metro areas, more than half of suburban zero-vehicle households live in neighborhoods without transit service, representing 263,000 households. 

Geographic regions: The majority of households who don’t own cars live in just seven metro areas—New York City (28%), Chicago (5.3%), Los Angeles (4.8%), Philadelphia (4.1%), Boston (3%), the San Francisco Bay Area (2.6%) and Washington, D.C. (2.6%). The average of the other 93 metro areas combined is just 0.5% in comparison. Atlanta, Dallas, and Houston are the worst-performing large regions—each houses over 1% of all zero-vehicle households, but collectively, 100,000 zero-vehicle households in these regions have no access to transit. Metro areas in the Northeast do the best job of connecting zero-vehicle households to transit (44.4%), followed by the West (43.7%), Midwest (35.4%) and South (33.1%). Thirteen of the twenty best performing metros are in the West, while eleven of the worst performing are in the South. Six of Florida’s eight metro areas rank in the bottom twenty.

Equity: In terms of income, 59.8% of zero-vehicle households have incomes below 80% of the area median income. The share is similar between cities (59.8%) and suburbs (59.7%). In contrast, only 23.9% of all vehicle-owning households in these 100 metro areas are low-income. In only three of the 100 metro areas are less than half of ZVH’s also low-income households (New York City; Lakeland, FL; and Oxnard, CA). With respect to race/ethnicity, 36.4% of zero-vehicle households are White, 27.7% are Hispanic, and 25.3% are African-American.

So do these zero-vehicle households use public transportation to get to work? Brookings found that 59.7% of zero-vehicle households in the city use public transportation to get to work, compared to 25.4% in the suburbs. This implies that three-quarters (75%) of suburban zero-vehicle households need an alternative mode to get to work.

The results of this study present what Brookings calls a “transit paradox”—zero-vehicle households live in neighborhoods well-served by public transportation, and transit agencies align their routes to serve these people. Yet this service falls short in connecting these households to jobs throughout the region, even though job access via public transportation is better for zero-vehicle households than it is for vehicle-owning households.

The full report is available here.  

Profiles for each of the 100 metro areas analyzed in this study are also available here.