MPC releases "Transit Means Business" to highlight transit's economic impact - Metropolitan Planning Council

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MPC releases "Transit Means Business" to highlight transit's economic impact

An October 19th launch event at the McDonald's corporate headquarters explored how to keep the region competitive and meet the needs of tomorrow's workforce.

From (L) to (R): Panelists RTA Chair Kirk Dillard, State Rep. Art Turner, Cynthia Klein-Banai of UIC and Robert Gibbs from McDonald's. Image courtesy MBA Photography

On October 19th, MPC released its Transit Means Business report at an event convening business, transit and political leaders at the McDonald’s corporate headquarters in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood. The report illustrates the critical role transit plays in the Chicago region’s economy and tells the story of regional businesses and institutions that have made business decisions related to supporting transit. At the event, attendees heard from a wide range of experts and stakeholders, and had a chance to weigh in on how business and transit operators can strengthen their relationship to increase regional mobility and prosperity.

Setting the stage

MPC President MarySue Barrett started the day with a call to action, noting that this is a turning point in our region; we must act now in support of transit to remain globally competitive. “We are the slowest growing city, state and region, in part because we’ve been neglecting one of our greatest strengths – our impressive transit system,” she noted. MPC has become known for quantifying the cost of inaction, and Transit Means Business is a continuation of that work.

"You can't have a world-class region or city if you don't have world-class transit."

- Randy Blankenhorn

Secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation Randy Blankenhorn stated that transit is a key element of our transportation system, and we must find a dedicated funding solution that enables us to plan our future. He highlighted how solutions must be understandable, geographically inclusive and focused on the needs of everyday people. He was also the first to mention what became a common theme of the day: young people are increasingly turning towards transit and demanding multimodal transportation options. Vicki Noonan, Managing Principal of Cushman & Wakefield, which sponsored the report, offered a real estate perspective. In this competitive labor market, businesses are focused on attracting and retaining the most talented workers, and transit access has become a key driver in office location strategies. Highly educated graduates are choosing cities with strong transit options. In response, other cities are expanding and investing in their systems. If we don’t strengthen our transit system, the Chicago region is at risk of being left behind.

Key findings from the report

MPC Director of Transportation Audrey Wennink and Transportation Associate Jeremy Glover shared some of the key findings from the report and some best practices from transit-supportive businesses around the country. Studies focused on the Chicago region have found that transit investments yield anywhere from $1.21 to over $3.00 on a $1 investment. Job growth is stronger near transit – 50% of new jobs in the region were located within ½ mile of a rail station from 2005-2015.  And transit provides economic resiliency – even when the region lost nearly 150,000 jobs overall during the peak of the recession (2008-2009), nearly 11,000 jobs were added near transit.  Real estate growth and redevelopment is also accelerated near transit – 85% of all commercial construction activity in 2017 was within ½ mile of rail transit. Commuting to work by transit is on the rise, especially among the largest and fastest growing parts of the labor force – among those aged 25-44 there has been an eight percent increase in work trips via transit from 2011-2016. Additionally, millions of people in the metropolitan region have limited or no access to a personal vehicle. The stronger transit access is for them, the more they can participate in the region’s economy.

Audrey shared information on business coalitions around the country that have successfully fought for increased transit investment, including those in Washington D.C., the San Francisco Bay Area and Los Angeles. Read more in MPC’s blog post on the same topic. She also discussed a number of ways businesses have supported transit access for their employees by providing transit passes as part of benefits packages and playing an active role in transportation management.

Experts weigh in

A panel representing business, education, government and transit shared diverse perspectives on transit’s importance to the region. McDonald’s Chief Communications Officer Robert Gibbs shared the company’s story of moving from a suburban location to the heart of the central business district, resulting in commutes shifting from 90% by car to 90% by transit, biking or walking. Now, the company can access the kind of talent that ensures a bright future. Cynthia Klein-Banai, Associate Chancellor for Sustainability at the University of Illinois - Chicago, talked about how its Climate Action Implementation Plan has motivated UIC to invest in incentivizing use of low-pollution modes of transportation such as transit. By successfully reducing driving, the university has been able to grow without expanding its footprint by redeveloping unneeded parking lots.

"Trying to attract and keep Millennial workers without transit is like trying to sell a phone without a camera."

- Kirk Dillard

Regional Transportation Authority chairman Kirk Dillard described transit as the “great equalizer,” moving people of all backgrounds more efficiently than any other mode. He lauded the region’s transportation providers, saying that CTA, Metra and Pace do such a good job making do while being chronically underfunded that many policymakers have no idea how dire the situation has become. He also discussed how the region must cater to the future workforce’s needs and preferences for more transit. Representative Art Turner of Illinois’ 9th District told the audience how important transit is for his constituents, and highlighted the need to educate other lawmakers on how transit impacts businesses in their districts. He also emphasized the need to invest equitably throughout the region.

Insights from small-group discussions

Small groups of business, government and transit leaders discussed challenges and opportunities for the region.

The final segment of the event was group discussions between transit representatives, business leaders and public officials to identify next steps to move the region forward supporting a robust and effective transit system. All groups agreed that transit is key to attracting and retaining talent, especially younger workers. There was also a sense that the general public was mostly unaware of transit’s funding crisis, and the impact it is having on the physical condition and reliability of the system. Solving the first- and last-mile issue was identified as a critical step in increasing employee access to transportation, and as an area in which businesses are particularly well-suited to be involved. Lastly, people agreed that employers can learn a lot about how to be more transit-supportive by listening to the needs of their employees.

Next steps

The Transit Means Business event and report is just the beginning of MPC’s effort to activate the business community as partners in advocating for sustainable funding of transit. The report’s findings make a clear case for investing in transit to strengthen the region’s economy and maintain a competitive edge.

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


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For more than 80 years, the Metropolitan Planning Council (MPC) has made the Chicago region a better place to live and work by partnering with businesses, communities and governments to address the area's toughest planning and development challenges. MPC works to solve today's urgent problems while consistently thinking ahead to prepare the region for the needs of tomorrow. Read more about our work »

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