With almost one in ten Americans currently unemployed, local governments have a special obligation to create jobs.
To that end, they also have an obligation to squeeze the most possible new jobs from every expenditure.
Rarely are we able to put a value on how many more jobs could be created with better local decisions, but a new report More Transit = More Jobs, produced by the Transportation Equity Network, answers that question when it comes to transportation spending.
By looking at twenty governmental Metropolitan Planning Organizations and the projects listed in their Transportation Improvement Programs, the study found that shifting half of funds for highway projects to public transit would result in 36,000 additional annual jobs. For instance, in Atlanta such a shift to public transit would result in 23,000 additional full-time jobs during the life of their five-year transportation plan. In San Diego, the expected increase would total over 18,000 jobs.
Previous studies, including examinations of federal Recovery Act data, all find that public transportation creates more jobs than highways for the same amount of spending. Investment in public transit systems tends to be more labor-intensive than highways because systems are generally more complex, involve the purchase and maintenance of vehicles, and spend much less on acquiring land.
Public transportation investments come with several other important benefits, on top of added employment, including traffic congestion reduction, improved air quality, and the revitalization of struggling urban centers. Also, jump-starting demand for buses and rail cars long term could provide a new employment base to offset massive losses in the auto industry over the last decade. (Click here for a full report by U.S. PIRG.)
Finally, there should be little doubt about whether transit agencies can spend job-creation funds. While transit-riding has increased and driving has decreased over the last few years, state and local budget deficits have led to massive public transportation cuts around the country. It hardly makes sense to spend billions on new roads we don't need while cutting service on a transit network that millions rely on every day, especially when you can hire more people by doing the opposite.
Local officials that plan future transportation projects need to rewrite their lists to focus more on public transportation. Doing so will help bring about a better quality of life and substantially more jobs.
Follow Phineas Baxandall on Twitter: www.twitter.com/uspirg