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Transit drives jobs

We’d invest differently if we understood the true value of transit to the Chicago region’s economy

Image courtesy Crain's Chicago Business, via Getty Images

This piece first appeared at Crain's Chicago Business on Friday, October 19, 2018. 

We’d invest differently if we understood the true value of transit to the Chicago region’s economy.  

It’s measured in the daily rush of more than two million commuters relying on trains and buses. It’s measured in stronger job creation in locations closest to transit. And it’s now documented in a timely study released today by the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC). Transit Means Business reveals that businesses across the region are prioritizing transit to attract talent and ensure economic resiliency.  

People of all ages have shown they want transportation choices and that they value a robust transit system. After McDonald’s moved downtown in June—which is just one example of an urban relocation trend—the company’s HR specialists noted that commute patterns shifted from 90 percent driving to 90 percent not driving, with most using transit. 

Commuting to work via transit has grown for the past ten years, despite a dip in overall ridership. Look at how packed the CTA’s Blue and Red Lines are during rush hour.  Some Metra trains are standing room only.  Yet, people are increasingly choosing transit to get to work: Between 2011 and 2016 transit commutes for those ages 25 to 44—nearly half of all workers—grew 8 percent. And those age 55+—the fastest growing part of the workforce—saw a spike of 12 percent choosing transit.  

The real estate market is also showing its preferences. In 2017, 85 percent of all commercial construction in the 7-county region occurred within a half-mile or less of a CTA or Metra station, a trend that has been strengthening over the past four years. 

If businesses are betting on transit, what happens if it fails? Nightmare scenarios in New York and Washington, DC foreshadow what could happen here. To address urgent maintenance needs, these regions have had to shut down entire lines, forcing riders to endure rock-bottom service. And in 2015, the unthinkable happened: a D.C. Metro tunnel fire tragically killed one person and injured dozens more. 

Despite the consistent positive economic impacts shown from investing in transit, the Regional Transportation Authority has estimated that nearly one third of transit infrastructure in Northeastern Illinois is currently in a state of substandard repair. According to the RTA 2018-2023 Strategic Plan, the maintenance backlog for the three Chicago area transit agencies is $19.4 billion.   

MPC’s Transit Means Business research shows companies are ready to speak up in support of state investment in a strong transit system that provides them access to talent, increased economic resilience, and regional sustainability. Businesses want transit, and we need our leaders in Springfield to deliver a robust and reliable system to guide this region and state from overall decline back to growth. 

Explore "Transit Means Business," stories and statistics behind transit's vital role to Illinois' economy:

*new original research and data from Metropolitan Planning Council experts

*case studies from businesses such as McDonald's, Bosch, CA Ventures, the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Hamilton Partners, the Hatchery Chicago, PowerReviews, Revolution Brewing, The University of Illinois Chicago, Urban Juncture, the Illinois Medical District, Southern Illinois University, Testa Produce, Method and MB Financial Bank

*report covered in Crain’s Chicago Businessthe Chicago Tribune, the Chicago Sun-Times and WGN's The Morning Bell

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