More Transit = More Jobs

09/08/2010 06:05 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Laura Barrett Executive Director, Transportation Equity Network

With nearly 1 in 10 Americans still out of work and midterm elections fast approaching, it's little wonder that President Obama has made job creation his No. 1 job. His announcement of a job creation proposal including $50 billion in transportation spending is a very good start. Here's why.

Just four days before the president's Milwaukee announcement, TEN released a study called More Transit = More Jobs. The study found that shifting funds from highways toward public transit could create hundreds of thousands of new, long-term jobs at all skill levels.

Economists understand that transit creates more jobs than new highway construction. TEN's study went a few steps further. We looked at 20 metropolitan areas across the US and the impact of a 50% funding shift from highways to public transit. Each city in the study stands to gain thousands of jobs by giving priority to public transit.

While the largest metropolitan areas stand to create the most total jobs, metropolitan areas that spend the least on public transportation would have the largest proportional job increases. St. Louis, for example, which spends 15 percent of its transport funds on public transit, would enjoy a 259 percent increase in the number of transit jobs -- over 43,000 new jobs over the next five years. Not bad, given that it wouldn't require a penny of new spending.

We also looked at the job-creation potential of passing a transit-friendly federal Transportation Authorization Act, as proposed by Transportation for America (T4A) and supported by TEN. The study projects that the T4A proposal would create 1,291,431 new jobs in the transit sector over five years -- an increase of almost 800,000 jobs over the current federal transportation law, SAFETEA-LU.

Politics have gotten in the way of a new federal transportation law -- it's been nearly a year since the last one expired -- but the president's proposal is a way to move us toward it. It's a good sign that the president's proposal focuses on transit and highway repair, rather than new construction, since both are more effective job creators than new construction.

$50 billion would just be a start, to be sure. And whatever the final distribution of transit and non-transit investments, all our infrastructure investments need to include strong workforce equity requirements to make sure that those who have been hit hardest by the recession -- especially low-income people, people of color, and women -- have a fair shot at the jobs that the new investment creates.

Ultimately, there's no shortage of good arguments for investing in our transportation infrastructure immediately and in a big way -- especially transit. More transit means more jobs, plus expanded access to work, education, health care, and opportunity. All of those are things we need now more than ever. If our members of Congress truly care about our futures -- as well as their own -- they should show it by following the president's lead.