Strong Transportation Policy is Key to Supporting Illinois Workers - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Strong Transportation Policy is Key to Supporting Illinois Workers

A strong workforce needs to get to work. Employers, communities, and regional transit providers must all play a role in improving transportation options for today's workforce.

Audrey Wennink

Aurora Metra station

To ensure workers have access to jobs, we need to encourage employers to consider transportation as an integral part of their business decisions, as noted in the Future of Work in Illinois report. Locating in places with access to public transit should be a priority. Employers who locate far from transit and where there are no transportation options other than driving may find that they have difficulty attracting and retaining employees.   

For example more than one-quarter of households in the city of Chicago do not have a vehicle; in the greater Chicago region, 13 percent of households do not have a vehicle. That's one key reason why economic development professionals should work with employers to ensure they are considering employee transportation access from the start. If the main consideration in siting is how inexpensive a location is to the employer, the transportation burdens for workers may be high and unsustainable.   

To retain a high-quality workforce, employers also should consider what employee transportation supports they can offer. Benefits may include transit subsidies, private shuttles that connect to transit stations, and coordination on carpooling among employees. For warehousing jobs that may be in low- density locations outside the traditional transit service area, employers may consider offering demand response shuttle buses or subsidizing custom transit routes aligned with shifts. 

Making sure workers have stable transportation can improve long-term retention, which ultimately can help employers save on the high costs of hiring and training. This will require developing creative mobility solutions centered on workers’ needs. The Employer-Sponsored Transportation Toolkit helps employers consider how they can help ensure their employees have reliable, affordable, and predictable transportation. For example, the Village of Bedford Park in Illinois is testing a Connect2Work pilot project collaborating with mobility providers to transport people to jobs in the village’s large industrial sector.

It is critical that we maintain strong public transportation systems as we emerge from the COVID-19 crisis. As the pandemic has highlighted, many “essential” jobs require people to commute to work daily, and many workers in low- to moderate-wage jobs rely on transit for job access, including those working in some of Illinois' largest employment sectors, such as hospitality, healthcare, and transportation, distribution and logistics (TDL). The way we fund our transit systems in Illinois will need to be reevaluated in our post-COVID reality, but one thing is for sure: A robust transit system supports millions of people being able to access jobs, especially those with low and moderate incomes. 

MPC’s Transit Means Business report highlighted the critical relationship between employers and public transit bringing workers to the job. We need to make sure transit systems continue to evolve to meet the needs of all types of workers, especially the many people who do not work traditional office hours. A common and persistent issue is bus service ending before people get off their shifts in the evening. We need to better align transit hours of service with the hours workers need transportation to access jobs.

For many people, the journey to work includes a segment of walking or biking, whether that means accessing a bus or train station or making a trip entirely via active transportation. Illinois communities must continue to improve safe biking and walking routes to employment centers, including retail, hospitality, manufacturing, and TDL, so that workers can safely get to their jobs using affordable and healthy transportation, often in combination with transit. 

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