When American workers first began to flock to suburbs, transit systems provided an alternative to getting behind the wheel and driving into cities. But as companies gradually built new facilities in outlying areas, public transportation became no longer a viable option for much of the nation’s growing suburban workforce.

A recent Brookings Institution study sheds light on the effects of this shift, finding that only 27 percent of metropolitan workers can access their jobs via transit in 90 minutes or less. The study's results show wide variations among areas based on concentration of employers, land use and other factors.

"This kind of physical stratification of people and jobs has really complicated our ability to connect to one another," said Brookings Senior Research Associate Adie Tomer, who authored the study.

Tomer analyzed employment data, demographics and transit system routes for the largest 100 metropolitan areas to assess transit coverage and job accessibility. The analysis shows most metro area residents -- more than three-quarters -- live in neighborhoods with transit, but suburban workers enjoy far less accessibility compared to city commuters.

About 63 percent of the total jobs in the 100 metro areas surveyed were located outside the city in suburban areas. As the gap has widened, many often cash-strapped transit agencies have yet to expand to these outlying areas.

Salt Lake City boasts the highest labor access rate in the study, with 64.1 percent of the workforce able to commute to their jobs via public transportation in 90 minutes.

Officials in other areas have also worked to adapt to this suburbanization of jobs.

"They realize that it’s not just this hub system where all the roots are coming downtown. Society isn’t organized this way,” said Art Guzzetti, vice president of research and policy for the American Public Transportation Association.

Guzzetti told Governing he agrees with the general premise of the study that transit isn’t a feasible option for many suburban workers; however, he cautioned that the analysis should not be used to grade or rank regional transit systems. Some systems, for example, aren't responsible for serving an entire metro region. Others weren't intended to connect all suburban neighborhoods, Guzzetti said.

Land use and sprawl must also be considered. "The suburbs themselves have to be more transit-friendly, and part of that is design,” he said.

Furthermore, employers occasionally build large facilities in hopes of luring transit, but this is difficult to accomplish if transit lines are already in place.

“I think some people make those decisions, and then think about transportation choices later, which is the wrong way to look at it,” Guzzetti said.

The Brookings analysis found workers in some industries enjoy far better access to transit than others. Those working in finance, insurance and real estate -- all jobs typically located in downtown areas -- were shown to have the highest transit job coverage in the study.

Transit advocates got a boost earlier this month from the passage of the federal transportation bill, which provides two years of funding for highways and other infrastructure. The California state Senate also recently approved construction of the nation's first dedicated high-speed rail, and northern Virginia legislators similarly gave the green light for rail expansion to Dulles International Airport in June.

Many current demographic and social trends point toward a growing demand for transit, Guzzetti said. In many regions, cities are rebounding after decades of population decline. Young people, in particular, typically utilize public transit more than older adults.

While suburbanization of jobs accelerated in recent decades, recent census estimates suggest the recession may have halted this shift. Still, Tomer emphasized more research is needed to determine the extent to which any jobs moved back to cities.

In years past, analyses similar to the Brookings study weren't possible as transit agency data was often not tracked. Tomer said those in the transportation community are now generally aware of the consequences of job suburbanization, but greater attention must be paid to the issue as it is still unknown to some policymakers.

“Because accessibility analyses are not required by laws, we are missing out on opportunities to understand how well our metropolitan economics physically link,” he said.
 

Data

Enter a metro area below or sort data to compare rates for different areas. Detailed figures for each community are available on the Brookings Institution website.

 

         
Metro Area Rank Total Jobs Labor Access: City Labor Access: Suburb
Salt Lake City, UT 1 665,035 69.4% 61.2%
San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, CA 2 947,073 69.2% 45.5%
Honolulu, HI 3 459,674 67.4% 47.0%
Tucson, AZ 4 442,198 56.8% 33.1%
Madison, WI 5 437,954 50.1% 39.2%
Albuquerque, NM 6 413,926 47.7% 38.3%
Provo-Orem, UT 7 180,332 51.7% 43.8%
Fresno, CA 8 348,279 47.1% 37.1%
Denver-Aurora, CO 9 1,301,332 59.8% 32.9%
Milwaukee-Waukesha-West Allis, WI 10 982,349 54.5% 33.1%
Ogden-Clearfield, UT 11 204,870 48.4% 42.3%
Las Vegas-Paradise, NV 12 1,173,527 49.3% 39.6%
Grand Rapids-Wyoming, MI 13 467,252 43.3% 36.4%
Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA 14 372,385 51.2% 8.7%
Modesto, CA 15 208,840 53.7% 19.9%
Portland-Vancouver-Beaverton, OR-WA 16 1,087,063 51.3% 23.9%
New York-N. New Jersey-Long Island, NY-NJ-PA 17 9,681,910 58.1% 14.4%
San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, CA 18 2,295,554 52.6% 21.4%
Bakersfield, CA 19 302,639 42.3% 25.7%
San Antonio, TX 20 950,576 34.9% 26.2%
Dayton, OH 21 439,844 46.4% 26.4%
New Orleans-Metairie-Kenner, LA 22 660,484 43.1% 24.8%
Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 23 3,138,270 56.9% 22.4%
Toledo, OH 24 366,388 38.9% 12.2%
Wichita, KS 25 354,460 30.8% 20.7%
Seattle-Tacoma-Bellevue, WA 26 1,748,039 40.9% 22.3%
Colorado Springs, CO 27 307,435 31.0% 25.4%
Austin-Round Rock, TX 28 854,765 32.7% 7.4%
Stockton, CA 29 245,977 41.6% 17.2%
El Paso, TX 30 295,242 30.1% 4.1%
Buffalo-Niagara Falls, NY 31 676,576 51.9% 18.6%
Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA 32 549,648 34.8% 8.6%
San Diego-Carlsbad-San Marcos, CA 33 1,516,177 36.3% 17.4%
Rochester, NY 34 543,711 42.9% 17.3%
Albany-Schenectady-Troy, NY 35 535,621 37.0% 22.6%
Syracuse, NY 36 394,899 45.6% 13.3%
Boston-Cambridge-Quincy, MA-NH 37 2,754,461 46.9% 15.9%
Columbus, OH 38 1,093,817 31.4% 12.7%
Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, CT 39 537,376 37.6% 21.0%
Cleveland-Elyria-Mentor, OH 40 1,236,152 44.3% 14.9%
Minneapolis-St. Paul-Bloomington, MN-WI 41 2,029,242 49.0% 13.1%
Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, CA 42 6,036,453 35.6% 19.8%
Baltimore-Towson, MD 43 1,340,718 42.0% 17.2%
New Haven-Milford, CT 44 420,067 44.7% 18.1%
Boise City-Nampa, ID 45 311,965 31.8% 14.3%
Louisville-Jefferson County, KY-IN 46 662,432 25.5% 18.3%
Jackson, MS 47 308,937 24.8% 10.5%
Hartford-West Hartford-East Hartford, CT 48 737,802 42.9% 17.9%
Harrisburg-Carlisle, PA 49 368,669 38.8% 15.3%
Phoenix-Mesa-Scottsdale, AZ 50 1,884,456 25.1% 19.5%
Springfield, MA 51 352,168 34.5% 16.7%
Allentown-Bethlehem-Easton, PA-NJ 52 382,385 32.8% 19.6%
Chicago-Naperville-Joliet, IL-IN-WI 53 4,994,350 38.7% 11.7%
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD 54 3,119,137 43.9% 13.8%
Cincinnati-Middletown, OH-KY-IN 55 1,157,259 35.9% 11.8%
Houston-Sugar Land-Baytown, TX 56 2,748,466 24.5% 7.9%
Scranton--Wilkes-Barre, PA 57 320,066 25.6% 21.4%
St. Louis, MO-IL 58 1,508,904 35.8% 16.4%
Greensboro-High Point, NC 59 410,836 22.5% 7.6%
Sacramento--Arden-Arcade--Roseville, CA 60 952,545 30.2% 15.4%
Oxnard-Thousand Oaks-Ventura, CA 61 370,661 24.4% 19.1%
Indianapolis-Carmel, IN 62 1,046,153 22.9% 11.1%
Charlotte-Gastonia-Concord, NC-SC 63 927,097 26.3% 9.3%
Tulsa, OK 64 479,208 24.4% 2.3%
Little Rock-North Little Rock-Conway, AR 65 407,626 22.8% 16.6%
Raleigh-Cary, NC 66 542,265 24.5% 14.5%
Akron, OH 67 366,559 36.0% 10.1%
Bradenton-Sarasota-Venice, FL 68 323,377 22.1% 20.3%
Pittsburgh, PA 69 1,261,038 39.6% 10.6%
Memphis, TN-MS-AR 70 667,605 22.8% 3.8%
Detroit-Warren-Livonia, MI 71 2,113,264 33.1% 14.3%
Providence-New Bedford-Fall River, RI-MA 72 824,322 39.8% 14.0%
Baton Rouge, LA 73 399,648 22.2% 7.7%
Charleston-North Charleston-Summerville, SC 74 337,566 23.2% 15.3%
Cape Coral-Fort Myers, FL 75 300,213 19.5% 18.3%
Jacksonville, FL 76 652,831 21.6% 3.4%
Portland-South Portland-Biddeford, ME 77 318,927 20.2% 14.2%
Columbia, SC 78 383,085 24.4% 11.4%
Greenville-Mauldin-Easley, SC 79 315,155 19.0% 16.2%
Knoxville, TN 80 411,280 18.6% 5.1%
Worcester, MA 81 390,172 24.9% 6.4%
Richmond, VA 82 670,581 22.5% 7.5%
Chattanooga, TN-GA 83 265,803 16.0% 0.0%
Nashville-Davidson--Murfreesboro--Franklin, TN 84 833,162 16.0% 8.8%
Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, FL 85 2,816,566 20.8% 14.3%
Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington, TX 86 3,120,658 17.7% 10.8%
Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Marietta, GA 87 2,643,780 25.1% 10.4%
Oklahoma City, OK 88 683,314 17.8% 4.8%
Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News, VA-NC 89 806,295 17.0% 9.5%
Birmingham-Hoover, AL 90 570,055 19.1% 5.2%
Orlando-Kissimmee, FL 91 1,152,513 23.0% 10.5%
Lakeland-Winter Haven, FL 92 227,933 18.2% 11.2%
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater, FL 93 1,285,079 16.7% 10.7%
Kansas City, MO-KS 94 1,145,242 19.8% 4.3%
Youngstown-Warren-Boardman, OH-PA 95 296,007 20.1% 7.1%
McAllen-Edinburg-Mission, TX 96 240,203 16.2% 3.7%
Augusta-Richmond County, GA-SC 97 248,471 10.0% 1.9%
Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 98 1,373,351 11.1% 6.7%
Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown, NY 99 303,632 13.4% 4.9%
Palm Bay-Melbourne-Titusville, FL 100 238,515 8.7% 5.7%

Source: Brookings Institution Analysis