August 31, 2009
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Public Transit vs. Cars? Mineta Institute Examines Trends
Which benefits welfare recipients more when it comes to obtaining and keeping jobs—public transportation or owning a car? According to a new report from the Mineta Transportation Institute in San Jose, CA, Public Versus Private Mobility for the Poor: Transit Improvements Versus Increased Car Ownership in the Sacramento Region, the answer is: public transit.
The study tested two scenarios—promotion of car ownership versus transit improvements on job accessibility, work trips, and traveler benefits (calculated as the cost of each trip) using a model adopted by the Sacramento Area Council of Governments.
“Surveys and empirical studies demonstrate that, besides job skills and child care, lack of reliable transportation is a key factor preventing many welfare recipients from finding and retaining jobs,” said Robert A. Johnston, a major researcher on the study and emeritus professor in the Department of Environmental Science and Policy at the University of California at Davis. “The solution is either to provide the means for welfare recipients to obtain a car, to provide improved public transit, or to do both.”
The purpose of the study was to follow up on empirical reports suggesting that welfare recipients who own cars have a high probability of moving from welfare to work. While all participants in the study benefited from the travel mode provided, overall the families that relied on public transit saw greater benefits.
The study demonstrated that assigning a car to households that did not have a vehicle led to minor negative impacts in vehicle miles traveled, traffic volumes, and congestion. On the other hand, car ownership would substantially reduce mode-shared trips (those that involved more than one means of transportation, such as walking, cycling, or taking the bus). In contrast, an improved transit system would make jobs—particularly entry-level positions in suburban areas—more accessible to families residing in inner cities while also providing an alternative mode for all travelers.
Johnston explained that while this study focused specifically on the Sacramento region—which has both bus and light rail transit options—“Our methods could be used by most medium-sized and large [Metropolitan Planning Organizations], as they have the same kind of mode choice model as we used. We think doing this kind of analysis would be very useful…Many regions would come up with similar results, I believe.”
Shengyi Gao, research scientist in the university’s Information Center for the Environment, joined Johnston on the project.
The full text of the study is available here by clicking on the Research tab, then Publications, and scrolling down.