Can transportation equity happen in Chicago? - Metropolitan Planning Council

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Can transportation equity happen in Chicago?

Image courtesy Getty Images via Crain's Chicago Business

This op-ed originally appeared in Crain's Chicago Business on July 9, 2019.

Chicago has the second largest transit network among U.S. cities, but depending on where you live, it can feel like a transit desert.

Consistent with the Metropolitan Planning Council’s Cost of Segregation findings, further analysis found Chicago’s black and brown communities are disproportionately affected by longer commute times. A resident of Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood who looks forward to benefitting from the jobs juggernaut of the O’Hare terminal modernization would have to stomach a 90-minute transit commute each way.

At the same time, gridlock in the Loop is getting worse. While ride share companies like Uber and Lyft generated about two million trips locally each month back in 2015, that number grew to nine million trips each month in 2018. And almost half of those solo riders are taking short trips between the Loop and North side where transit is often plentiful, adding to hassles and delays for walkers, bikers and drivers.

There are no easy fixes to increasing transportation mobility, accessibility and equity. But there are promising steps Mayor Lightfoot can take, even in her first 100 days. Many are detailed in three bold transportation blueprints, including one issued just this March. Two ideas that can be championed immediately by the Lightfoot administration: rewarding businesses who encourage transit use and helping transit commuters who need it most.

First up, fairer fares. CTA offers discounted rides for children, students, the elderly and people with disabilities. There are no price breaks for low-income individuals. Last year, MPC released Our Equitable Future, a policy roadmap to increase equity and inclusion.

One recommendation, a 50% transit fare subsidy for adults living below the federal poverty line (10-15% of transit riders), would cost $25-$50 million annually, but the return on investment to our regional economy could be even bigger. By lowering the financial burden of transportation, residents will have easier access to employment, education, healthcare, and more, leading to more stable families and neighborhoods.

Second, employers can play a major role in shifting travel choices. MPC’s 2018 Transit Means Business study demonstrates the benefits to both employers and employees of promoting transit. A marketing push by Team Lightfoot to discourage solo-driver and single-rider commutes and reward jumps in transit, walking and biking usage would have a ripple effect.

Companies like Testa Produce, McDonald’s, Method, and the Illinois Medical District are leading the way with innovative approaches—like paying for transit passes—that can inspire others.

While job opportunities are out there, they’re out of reach for too many. Mayor Lightfoot can increase access and mobility by reducing price barriers for low-income families, and tap businesses' power to tilt the scales, connecting more people to job opportunities and making getting around easier for everyone.

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