Linking Workers to Jobs via Transit

Honolulu, HI, ranked number 1 in the Brookings study, with 60% of jobs reachable via transit.

Last week, the Metropolitan Policy Program of the Brookings Institution released an analysis of how well transit systems in the nation’s largest 100 metropolitan areas connect workers to jobs.  The key finding of the study is that nationally, while a high percentage of people live near transit (69 percent), a much smaller percentage of jobs are reachable via transit (only 30 percent). What does that say about the success or failure of public transportation? What does it say about land use planning and regionalism?

After chatting with Executive VP/Chief Development Officer Doug Allen and Planning VP Todd Hemingson about the findings of the study, two takeaways for Central Texas are:

1. We have to work together and plan together as a region to meet transportation needs. (Transit needs to grow where transit can go.)

2. We need to raise the collective social awareness that smart land use planning is beneficial. (Businesses need to locate where transit is.)

Here at home, as noted in the Austin American-Statesman, the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos area ranked 50th out of the 100 metropolitan areas in the study.

Here are some findings for the Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos MSA:

  • 47 percent of people live near a transit stop (study average: 69 percent)
    Considering that Round Rock and San Marcos don’t have a city transit system (and aren’t within the Capital Metro service area), you can see why the percentage is low. (When you look at just the Capital Metro service area, about 71 percent of people are within 3/4 mile from a transit stop.)
  • The average wait time for a bus or train during rush hour is 8.6 minutes (study average: 10.1 minutes)
  • Thirty-nine percent of jobs can be reached via transit within 90 minutes (above the average of 30 percent)

Transit & Jobs Analysis for Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos MSA (one page pdf with three charts, specific to our area)


In Central Texas, we’ll continue to see low job connectivity without a more regional transit network. The Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos MSA (on which this study was based) expanded in July 2008 from two to five counties. That’s a huge area, and Hays, Caldwell, and Bastrop counties are quite rural. While 82.4% of the total MSA population live within Travis and Williamson Counties, employment centers are scattered throughout the MSA.

The five-county Austin-Round Rock-San Marcos MSA, with CAMPO activity centers (and the Capital Metro service area) marked.

Here’s another compelling fact: 95% of Capital Metro’s service area is in Travis County. We have to be more creative as a region if we want to provide better job connectivity by transit. It should be noted that the study did not, to our knowledge, incorporate the transit services offered throughout the region by CARTS. Had those services been considered, the percentage of jobs accessible by transit would have increased.

The communities included in Capital Metro’s service area pay one percent of their local sales taxes to Capital Metro for transit service. But for many communities, that is not an option because all of their sales tax has been obligated. To foster a more regional, out of the box approach to transportation planning, Capital Metro adopted a service expansion policy in 2010 that gives us more leeway to explore creative partnerships and sources of funding for providing transit service. A recent example of this policy in action was the interlocal agreement with ACC to provide a bus stop on route 214 Northwest Flex at the ACC campus as Cypress Creek. The campus is outside of the Capital Metro service area, and therefore ACC covers the cost to provide service to that stop.

Capital Metro, the city of Austin, TxDOT and other partners are working through CAMPO (Capital Area Metropolitan Planning Organization) to develop a regional system plan that incorporates all of the available transportation tools into one regional planning toolbox: roads, tolls, HOV lanes, MetroRapid bus service, city of Austin urban rail, MetroRail, Lone Star Rail, etc. The regional system plan will address three key questions for our region: 1. How will all of the components work together as a system? 2. How do we organize to develop and operate the system components? And, 3. How do we pay for it?


If you’re of a certain age, you probably remember a time when no one recycled. It took upwards of 20 to 25 years before recycling became the norm. Even after curbside recycling became available, people were slow to adopt.  They didn’t understand the benefits of recycling, or even more likely, the benefits didn’t seem very personal. What did it take to change the norm? Incentives and limitations (carrot and stick approach), years of various education campaigns designed to change mindsets, and improvements to the process itself so it became easier to recycle than to throw it in the trash.

Land use planning as it relates to transportation is kind of like the early days of recycling. The benefits aren’t well known and haven’t been communicated in a way that resonates personally for people. People are slow to adopt. Hence, businesses set up shop everyday in areas that are not accessible by transit. It’s easier and sometimes cheaper to locate your business outside of the densest population centers. Where’s the carrot and stick?

As a region, we need to work harder to make the benefits of smarter land-use planning universally understood, and the choice to grow “smart” made as easy as, or easier, than the choice to sprawl. It takes time.

One step Capital Metro is taking is to link our transit plans with the activity-centered growth vision that’s the foundation of the CAMPO 2035 plan (see the activity centers marked on the map above). We’re also one of many partners who received a HUD Sustainability Grant that will plan and implement transit-supportive development in dense activity centers in our area.

The bottom line is that continuing to develop with low-density auto-oriented development patterns will result in more auto dependency and poor transit accessibility.


Learn more about the Brookings Institution analysis

View an interactive map of the Brookings data showing job access via transit.

10 thoughts on “Linking Workers to Jobs via Transit

  1. Does this mean we can we have the bus line up and down 360? Why we don’t have a nerd shuttle with WiFi that goes up and down that road is beyond me.

    1. Well, 360 poses some challenges for safe and effective transit operations. High travel speeds make it extremely difficult for buses to stop and merge back into traffic. Perhaps even more problematic is the lack of sidewalks. All of our new bus stops must be fully accessible under Federal regulations. Building lengthy sidewalk connections and supporting infrastructure to signalized intersections such as Westbank, Lost Creek, Las Cimas, FM 2244, Westlake, Courtyard, RR 2222, Lakewood, and Bluffstone is not practical. Many of the aforementioned streets have significant turn lanes and drainage issues that create additional challenges. While bus service along Loop 360 is within our long-range transit plan, significant infrastructure improvements need to be addressed before we can consider bus service.

  2. Don Dickson

    Tim, I had a similar reaction when I first moved here in 1994. My first address in Austin was on the I-35 frontage road. To my considerable surprise, I had a loooong walk to the nearest bus stop. I never could figure why there wasn’t a bus route up and down I-35 connecting everyone who lives and works along that transportation spine. There still isn’t, to my knowledge.

    I was surprised to read that 69% of us live near transit but only 30% of our jobs are near transit. I would have expected the opposite to be the case.

    Erica, I wonder if anyone has thought about developing interactive route maps and business directories for each CM bus route. For example, you could search for shoe stores along the #3, or for supermarkets on the #7, or for law firms near the #19. Or for that matter, for apartments or condominiums. That is the kind of tool that might be helpful to someone who is trying to engineer their life around the available transit options. And in developing the tool you might even begin to detect some weaknesses in the transit options…for example, apartment complexes that are not well-connected by transit to supermarkets.

    1. Don, I like the idea of interactive route maps! Eventually I think this will be a reality. We are already incorporating our transit maps with google maps, and we have an upgraded version of our interactive maps available in beta form on our website now, so it’s not that far of a stretch to see that it’s possible to add the businesses, schools, medical facilities, etc., on the maps, too, and then make it searchable. I think that would be an excellent resource.

      Regarding IH 35 frontage, travel speeds are an issue. There’s one stretch of IH35 that still has some service, Airport to Dean Keeton. Poor pedestrian access is also a challenge.

  3. Korey Vera

    Ok, I am not sure where you get your statistics from stating that the average wait is 8.6 minutes during rush hour but I call BS! Capmetro must be cherry picking it’s data, I wait a lot longer than that (route 383). Capmetro needs to run buses later at least one more round at night because some of us work later at night instead of throwing money away on worthless metrorail that cannot run on the weekends or St night because you are sharing railroad track!

  4. mike

    the more services more more ridership, id use the daytime service at least twice weekly if you began in Leander & 3 others would also join the train at lakeline, as we travel to downtown to watch soccer games in a bar, but we tend to drive because i have to drive to lakeline to meet the train and get off on the return leg to collect my truck even tho the train carries on to leander.

    So that would be at least 6 / 10 trips per week.

    We use the trains when we can and would use any weekend service (like we did for SXSW & Pecan St Fest)

    Thanks Mike

  5. Kelly

    I was sad to see that Cap Metro didnt make the list when Yahoo featured the article, now I know that you did make it just not the good list. I was happy to see that #2 was VTA, (San Jose area) made it because I have ridden them and it was efficent with many different options.

    Its sad to see so many negative comments because it the Valley Transportation Authority’s case the more options there were added rail service or BRT lines, the more ridership increased. However, I shouldnt let a few bad eggs ruin everything. Cap Metro is #1 for customer service in my book!

  6. One could argue that Cap Metro should provide better transit to the core (more competitive transit), which might lead more businesses to decide on their own that locating in the core is what they want to do.

    In other words, build good transit, from a good residential concentration to a good existing employment concentration, and employers will want to fill in along that line – leading more people to have good transit to their jobs.

    No, that’s not TOD. It’s building a line oriented to existing development first, because as Christof Spieler noted in Houston a while back, density attracts density.

  7. Proy

    If wait times were of the order of 8.6 minutes, people would not even bother to look at time tables – if a bus left, one could just wait for the next one – but unfortunately you cannot do that with Cap Metro’s service. As Korey Vera correctly stated, Capital Metro cherry-picked data to make themselves look good. What else – this kind of unscrupulous data culling and lack of transparency is rife amongst businesses – self-censure is only a sign of the mature. They must have picked the best served sector, which in my opinion is the North-West Austin to downtown, and that too between 7:00 to 7:45AM, at most. I have been using the 982-983 service for over 5 years now from Pavilion to downtown and then by #7 to I-35 and Ben White- total of about 1 hour and 15 minutes, which becomes 1.5 hours for the return trip. Anybody else would have given up on Capital Metro by now, given that their service is so poor for this kind of North-South cross-town commute. I keep hoping that they will get better, but alas – a culture of moribund thought processes must be hard to change! Anyway, based on my long commute experience, a few things that could improve are:-
    1) Think about improving service for North to South (and South to North) Austin commuters. I am not even talking about direct North-South routes, at least not yet. Just because a number of 982-983’s leave downtown between 4:45 to 5:15PM doesn’t mean people who work South of downtown can use those services – it takes at least half an hour to get to downtown from I-35 and Ben White area. And then there is a long wait time for the connecting 982 or 983.
    2) Another small change would vastly improve North – South commute time, even with a change in downtown. A few “special” 982 routes could be introduced to bypass UT campus area, and continue South on Mopac, enter downtown at about 15th street. This would cut roughly 10-15 minutes, I think.
    3) The shuttle bus service from downtown train station was a good idea – though poorly executed, and hence being scrapped within a year of introduction. These shuttle bus services could ideally have whisked the office workers away to office locations like the industrial complex on St.Elmo & Friedrich, to Spansion, or similar South Austin office locations. Instead Cap Metro chose to serve downtown offices – most downtown people that take the train walk to their offices from the train station. In the evenings, these same shuttle bus services could guarantee that workers from South Austin offices were able to catch their train back home.
    4) An attempt to use the train as an alternative to the 982-983 route was met with great frustration. Very often a delay by the #7 route would mean missing the 5:30PM train and waiting another hour. A commute time of about 3 hours a day does not leave time to do anything else. At least there used to be a 6:05 PM service, now that is gone, so that Cap Metro could introduce day time service. And the excuse was, the ridership was low. Really? Even lower than the ridership of a day time service that you are running instead? Anyway, if the shuttle bus services were there to complement, as mentioned above, this could be improved. And shifting the train timings and adding more during the 5:00PM – 7:00 PM time period would be beneficial, keeping in mind that workers from South Austin need to use it too to get back to North Austin. Also, while you’re at it, could you drop a few of the daytime services and introduce one at least for late night – maybe 9:30-10:00 PM, another between 11:00-12:00 midnight. Even Houston light rail, which is not known to be very good has services till 2:15 AM in the morning!

    Other improvements like dedicated bus lanes on Mopac, etc would be great but will take time.

  8. Nick

    I have never waited less than 15 mins for a bus. Recently the 1M/1L has been running way off schedule. Either arriving 10 mins early or 20 mins late. I do not know where you get your facts from. Especially the study where you all rode buses and asked people what they thought of CapMetro. Everyone on every bus has always complained about the service. It’s the worst public transit I have rode ever. San Francisco, Denver, Portland, Seattle, even Laredo, TX have a way better transit system than Cap Metro. Get your head out of your rears and get this failing system back on track. No more ghetto convict drivers, Stick to your schedule, Add one more trip at night per route, Make buses run every 20 mins as oppose to 30 to 40 even 60 like now. The rail system is the biggest fail this city has seen. It is only catered to the semi-wealthy whities of suburbia. It is in convenient and a waste of money. CapitalMetro wants to be cheap and share a rail with Union Pacific. The buses are falling apart, the drivers are rude, not enough security. How about you actually have security on the bus as oppose to placing signs on the bus that there are. Contract the good for nothing APD. You all seriously need some work.

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