OGDEN -- Public transit in Weber, Davis and Morgan counties is doing a better job than in most U.S. metropolitan areas in connecting people to employment, according to a national study released today.
The Brookings Institution's study analyzes route and schedule information from 371 transit systems in the nation's 100 largest metropolitan areas to determine how effectively those systems give people access to employment.
Brookings is a nonprofit public policy think-tank based in Washington, D.C.
The study is being released as governments across the country are contemplating serious cuts to transit funding, said Elizabeth Kneebone, a senior research associate for Brookings and co-author of the study.
"That could worsen access problems, particularly for lower-income residents who depend on transit the most," she said in a prepared statement. "After a recession that saw unemployment and poverty climb, we need to foster metropolitan-scale policies that help people get to work and don't leave the growing number of suburban poor behind."
The Ogden-Clearfield Metropolitan Statistical area, which includes Weber, Davis and Morgan counties, is ranked 11th overall based on its share of working-age residents who live near a transit stop, the frequency of transit service and the share of jobs reachable via transit.
The Salt Lake City metro area is ranked third, and the Provo metro area placed ninth.
The study found that 82 percent of working-age residents in the Ogden-Clearfield metro area live near a mass transit stop, such as bus and light rail, compared to an average of 69 percent for all 100 metro areas.
The median wait time for mass transit in the Ogden-Clearfield metro area is 12.6 minutes during rush hour, while the average wait for all metros is 10.1 minutes, according to the study.
In addition, the study determined that 42 percent of all jobs in the Ogden-Clearfield metro area are reachable via mass transit within 90 minutes, while the average for all metros is 30 percent.
The study did not examine the impact that a potential streetcar system being looked at in Ogden, from the Intermodal Hub at 23rd Street and Wall Avenue to Weber State University and McKay-Dee Hospital, would have in providing people access to jobs.
Fifteen of the 20 metros that rank the highest in terms of transit coverage and job access are in the West while 15 of the 20 lowest-ranked metros are in the South.
The West has natural geographic barriers such as mountains and oceans, but municipalities there have put together growth policies that encourage denser development, which makes transit work better in connecting people to jobs, Kneebone said.
Utah officials have done well in developing and investing in transit-oriented policies that involve land-use planning and economic development, she said.
Richard McConkie, Ogden's community and economic development director, said mass transit is a key component of the city's economic development strategy.
"The accessibility of transportation to the workplace, recreation and entertainment is very important to economic growth. The Wasatch Front is a leader in the country in mass transportation, but we are also one of the more highly polluted corridors. It's critical for quality of life that we pursue mass transit for environmental concerns."
Gerry Carpenter, a spokesman for the Utah Transit Authority, said the state's favorable ranking in the Brookings study means there is widespread public support for mass transit like the FrontRunner commuter rail system that runs from Pleasant View to Salt Lake City.
"Taxpayer-approved investments in high-quality transit options like FrontRunner have encouraged people to leave their cars behind and consider public transportation as their preferred way to get to work," he said in an email to the Standard-Examiner.
UTA has also been able to provide better job access through creative options beyond just its buses and trains, Carpenter said. UTA operates more than 400 van pools that enable thousands to travel every day to their place of employment, he said.
UTA has also introduced a new cost-efficient type of bus service known as "flex" routing, which provides better connections to rural areas and centers of employment, such as Business Depot Ogden, where the new service started May 1.
Job access via transit varies widely among metro areas, reflecting not only the extent of transit systems, but also the levels of population and job sprawl, the study states.
Effective transit is also a concern for employers in terms of their ability to compete, said Alan Berube, a senior fellow with Brookings and co-author of the report. A high-quality transit network lets employers benefit from clustering of people and businesses, helping to increase productivity, he said.
"Transit systems designed for the mid-20th-century metropolis can't keep up with the 21st-century demands of businesses and workers," Berube said in a prepared statement. "Metro areas need to craft comprehensive visions not only for how to create more jobs, but also how to link people to those jobs efficiently."
Adie Tomer, research analyst for Brookings who helped write the study, said the findings highlight the need for better coordination of local development to meet the needs of workers and employers.
"We don't want to go ripping the wires out of the system," Tomer said in a prepared statement. "Our existing transit network needs to be re-configured to make it easier for people to get from home to work.
"Long-range, we need to do a much better job of coordinating transit with housing and commercial and industrial growth, and we need to consider many possible transportation alternatives."