New MassINC report on economic impact of transit in Gateway Cities

New MassINC report cites heavy economic toll of insufficient transit in Gateway Cities along with above average support for transit investment among voters in these communities

Provides “roadmap” for how to use potential RTA revenue for short and long-term economic growth 

Inadequate public transit in Gateway cities, with service gaps for workers and double time commutes, contributes to labor force participation rates that are well below the state’s average, according to a new MassINC report released today.  The report, entitled, “Reinventing Transit: Investing in Public Transportation for Strong Gateway City Economies,” suggests the proposed increased in funding for Regional Transit Authorities (RTA’s) can address this problem if used toward service expansion and improvements that are tied to economic growth and supported by ongoing reforms such as performance metrics and transparency.     

“As state leaders debate and structure new RTA funding, it is critical they rethink the role of regional transit as a major driver of economic growth, particularly in Gateway Cities that are primed for transit-oriented development,” said Ben Forman, MassINC Research Director and Executive Director of the Gateway Cities Innovation Institute.

 According to the report, the decentralization of jobs over the past three decades has been particularly strong in small to mid-size cities like the Gateway Cities.  This job sprawl, combined with inadequate public transit service, means a small majority of jobs in Gateway Cities are accessible by transit with less than a 90-minute one-way commute.

Public transportation commute times in Gateway Cities are twice the duration of vehicle commutes, meaning those less able to drive have less access to employment opportunities. As a result, labor participation rates in Gateway Cities are 2.5 percentage points below the Massachusetts average — some cities like Pittsfield are 4 points below. 

The report also cites new polling information that shows that Gateway City voters are more supportive of public transit than the average Massachusetts voter by a considerable margin.  When asked whether increasing bus service will make a difference in the lives of people in the community, nearly half of all Gateway City voters say it will make a “major” difference, 10 percent points higher than voters living in other Massachusetts communities.  Nearly three-quarters of Gateway City voters say they would be willing to pay $50 more per year for improvements in the state’s transportation infrastructure, again, 10 percentage points more favorable than non-Gateway City respondents.

In its strategic plan, “The Way Forward,” MassDOT recommends a $100 million annual increase in state support for RTA’s.  MassINC’s report suggests this funding can make a real difference if deployed strategically and could have an impact on short and long-term economic growth.  The report shows a direct correlation between service expansion and increased labor force participation as well as longer term impacts such as expanding housing supply, supporting efficient land use patterns, and increasing local consumer spending power. 

The report also recommends that oversight responsibility for any future RTA revenue align with the source of funding, whether collected statewide or generated regionally.   

Other recommendations include:

  • Marketing and branding regional transit to inspire greater ridership and improve overall attractiveness of Gateway cities;
  • Improving service quality through new technologies;
  • Creating stronger linkages between transportation and land use planning.

Read a copy of the report here.

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