Study: Low-Income Residents Have Transit, But Not Enough

May 13, 2011

A new report says almost all low-income residents in Connecticut's biggest cities have access to public transportation. But those buses, shuttles and trains are often too infrequent to get them to work.

After two years of crunching data, Alan Berube was surprised to find that nearly 70 percent of people in America's metropolitan areas have access to public transit.

That's true in Connecticut too. But "access" here could just mean a bus runs down your street every half hour.

"The fact that these lines aren't that extensive and don't run all that frequently, put together means that these are kind of middling regions when it comes to the performance of transit systems," Berube says.

Berube is a senior fellow at the Brooking's Institute, a think tank in Washington, D.C. He surveyed public transit in 100 cities in the U.S. including Bridgeport, New Haven and Hartford.

But while the state may be "middling" in terms of its transit coverage and ability to get someone to work, that doesn't make it good.

To test how effective the transit systems are, Berube and his team ran scenarios that allowed a person from a low-income neighborhood 90 minutes to commute. In Connecticut's biggest cities, only around a third of jobs could be reached by public transit within that time limit.

Berube says it's not enough to just plop down a bus route.

"We just can't rely on transit by itself to connect people to jobs and labor market opportunity," he says. "There has to be better coordination between where we invest in transit and things like economic development, housing development, land use and zoning."

Berube says Connecticut can do that as it starts to redevelop areas around some of its train stations. He says putting housing and job opportunities near the stations, will be the key to making a commute by public transit more feasible.