Job type and location may keep low-wage workers from using transit

By Chris McCahill

Affordable transit service can be a major asset to low-wage workers, but characteristics of their jobs—such as where and when they work—may keep them from using those services. Workers are more likely to use transit when they work in suburban employment clusters or urban centers, but only for certain industries and during certain times of the day, new research finds. This work focuses more attention on the work end of the trips in determining how well transit can meet workers’ needs and finding ways to increase transit effectiveness and ridership.

Researchers in Toronto studied the travel habits and workplace characteristics of people making less than $16 an hour—the region’s living wage. They first identified “suburban employment zones” and looked at the concentration of jobs in different sectors for each. After controlling for highway access, transit service, and commute distance, the researchers found that working in any suburban employment zone, rather than at more dispersed locations throughout the region, increases transit ridership by five to seven percent. Working in an urban core increases transit ridership by eight percent, but only during the off-peak period.

Transit ridership is higher in urban areas with large concentrations of jobs in government and educational services, but lower when there are large concentrations of health care jobs. Jobs in trades, transportation, and manufacturing correspond with higher transit use in suburban employment zones, but lower transit use outside of those zones. “This finding is promising,” according to the authors, “because it indicates that low-wage trades, transport, and manufacturing jobs can be transit friendly in certain areas.”

Other factors have interesting effects. Proximity to highway ramps, for example, decreases transit mode share, as expected, but only during off-peak periods when the highways are most efficient. During the peak period, when transit becomes more efficient relative to highways, people who live near commuter rail stations are more likely to use transit. Longer commute distances correspond with lower transit use, while higher transit accessibility (measured as access to other census tracts by transit) increases transit use.

Chris McCahill is a Senior Associate at SSTI.