In a report released by the University of Missouri – St. Louis, Minneapolis-St. Paul ranked 16th out of 20 metropolitan areas for public transit funding. The report, “More Transit = More Jobs” examines what would happen if cities suddenly switched 50 percent of their highway funds to public transit. According to the report, 1,123,674 jobs would be created. Taking job losses from decreased highway funds into account, there would be a net gain of about 180,000 jobs.
Sponsored by the Transportation Equity Network, the report also focuses on the transportation budgets of 20 metropolitan areas, and how much of those budgets currently go to transit funding. New York City was at the top of the list, with 75 percent of its transportation budget going to transit. The Twin Cities, on the other hand, found itself in the bottom five, alongside Boston, Atlanta, Denver and St. Louis. According to the report, the Twin Cities spends 26 percent of its transportation budget on transit. St. Louis scored lowest, with only 15 percent.
The report makes good points from a very interesting premise, but as far as the rankings are concerned, they aren’t too surprising. Much of the spending can be explained by geography alone. New York City has a very large and dense population, and it is full of geographical boundaries. Most notably, Manhattan is an island with 23 square miles and more than 1.6 million people. It is a prime example of an area where transit is a total necessity. The Twin Cities, however, is located in the sweeping plains of the Midwest, and has easily sprawled out in a car-oriented fashion throughout the years. Atlanta is ranked 18th, well known for its congestion and sprawl. Who came in 2nd? Honolulu, which is surrounded by mountains and the Pacific Ocean – as geographically restricting as it gets.
This is not to say, of course, that we shouldn’t increase transit funding. Strong, healthy communities need diversity in transportation, especially now that we are learning the downfalls of single-occupancy vehicles. Public transit has many benefits: it’s energy efficient, it reduces congestion, it encourages physical activity in commutes, and it is less expensive than owning a car. Even in sprawling metropolitan areas like the Twin Cities, public transit is an important means of commuting, and investing in it means investing in a stronger community. I’m not suggesting we use the 50-50 split, but as more people gravitate toward metropolitan areas, we can’t afford to stay behind the curve in transit funding.