Unemployment and the Transit Imperative

As US leaders suddenly pivot to focus on unemployment, Emily Garr at The Avenue picked up on a line of President Obama’s recent speech in Lorain County, Ohio.

You can’t get to work or go buy groceries like you used to because of cuts in the county transit system.

She goes on to describe cuts in the transit services to this suburban county that are definitely not “trimming the fat” but more like multiple amputations.

Transit advocates need to be picking up this line.  Back in the mid-90s, when welfare reform was timely, I routinely ran passenger surveys on various transit systems as part of planning projects.  The surveys had many other purposes, but I made a point to ask both “what is your trip purpose?” and “if transit had not been available, how would you have made your trip?”  A common answer to the second question was that the person would not have been able to make the trip.  Cross-tabulate that with a trip purposes of “work” and you get a count of people who could not hold their jobs without public transit.  It’s an easy thing to do in any customer survey, and every transit agency and advocate should know this number.

It’s also important to notice that the people who are on the verge of not being able to hold their jobs are mostly in relatively low-wage jobs in the service sector — restaurants, fast food, big box retail, etc.  These people are commuting all day and much of the night.  Transit that supports high employment is all-day service, not just peak service aimed at the generally better-off 9-to-5 commuter.

6 Responses to Unemployment and the Transit Imperative

  1. anonymouse January 27, 2010 at 12:41 am #

    Yes. Note also that the less-well-off are usually more willing to walk longer distances. What this means is it’s more useful to have a longer span of service than more geographic coverage, since a bus is still potentially useful even if you have to walk half an hour to get to it, but not useful if it’s not running at all when you get off work. So combining two parallel 8 am-6 pm routes into one 5 am-11 pm route would be a win for these people.

  2. D January 27, 2010 at 8:01 am #

    According to MUNI, the budget shortfall is $16.9 million. Wages during the year are expected to amount to $475 million.
    Now, as per the Bureau of Labor Statistics, average private employment compensation (wages + benefits) was $29.40 per hour. Average government employment compensation was $39.83 per hour. So in other words, market compensation levels are on average 26% lower than government (read public service union) compensation levels.
    Muni has a budget shortfall of $16.9 million. In order to close that gap, service cuts are being implemented which will save $4.8 million. $700,000 is being cut from union concessions.
    But since we now understand how overpaid public service unions are, we can see how much of that budget gap could be closed by hiring with market wages. ::::blinking and grunting in calculation::: and here we have it: $120 million!!!1!11oneoneone
    Thats right. A public service union that is approximately $120,000,000 overpaid makes a budget concession of only $700,000…while service cuts to san francisco residents are being used to fill a $16.9 budget gap.
    Now if you want to know what MUNI is really saying to San Franciscans, it is this: “F*** you San Francisco, MUNI exists for the benefit of the union…not so you can buy your groceries or get to work”.

  3. Ted King January 27, 2010 at 10:14 am #

    I am a long-time rider of the SFMuni system. The union, as an organization, has done its job – get the best deal possible for its members. Unfortunately that has resulted in salaries that may be triggering a lockstep into fiscal oblivion for SFMuni and other systems.
    I would like see graphs comparing the (1) median and (2) top-5-average (overall average is worthless) salaries for private-sector and public-sector drivers. There would have to be separate graphs for experience (starting, 10-year, and 20-year).
    The thing that scares me is that data on compensation locksteps is too scattered. How many transit systems in the United States have their driver’s pay linked to another system or group of systems ? And have the pay scales in those systems out-paced inflation ?
    I’m not advocating pay cuts or layoffs. But I have a dim memory of something that could be called federal receivership where Uncle Sam comes in, takes over a bankrupt city, and busts everybody’s chops. If SFMuni’s pay lockstep is a trap can the union suggest a way out ? The alternatives all look very ugly.

  4. Tammi Diaz January 27, 2010 at 5:11 pm #

    The Unemployment in the US is 10 percent, for the State of Utah it is 6.7 percent, it Increases every time there is Change Day at Utah Transit Authority. I have Friends that would go out Shopping but do to the Traffic Grid Lock they do most Shopping Online. Taking Buses out of Neighborhoods Increases Unemployment, Poverty and Crime.
    Utah Transit Authority Cut Back Service to Save $500 Million, Keeps BONUSES Worth $600 Million.
    Catmeow Public Transit

  5. Ericorozco January 28, 2010 at 11:01 am #

    Great concluding point. It would be great to represent Day-Night transit coverage areas in a city and compare it with your second and third shift employment locations geographically. With a few cities mapped out we can then compare their service sector employment rates to prove the thesis. Could be some great data there to take to Capitol Hill at this opportune time.
    You can maybe map transit coverage areas up to 5 mile buffers around the transit line (for long walkers) and pick the times in the shift transitions.
    By the way, Anonymouse, as someone who was a security guard one carless period of my life, I know that operations extending 11pm-1am were critical so that you can cover the second-third shift transition.

  6. J January 30, 2010 at 1:31 am #

    Good point about the service hours. Politicians like to say that transit serves the rich and poor alike, by pointing at maps, but service is highest during rush hour, and it’s the rich that work 9-6. Nobody making $100,000 works from 7pm to 3am.
    I worked a job where we closed at midnight, so after cleaning the shift ended at around 12:30. Considering the last train rolled by a block away at 12:35….every night was a rush to finish as quickly as possible to make that train. Someone making $9 an hour wouldnt be able to afford the $40 cab if they missed it.