Report ranks transit in D.C. region 17th among 100 major cities

Washington’s transit system may seem unreliable to the commuter who gets stuck waiting for trains or walking up broken escalators, but it may not be so bad when examined as part of a regional network compared with other major metropolitan areas.

Transit in the Washington area ranked 17th among 100 major cities’ bus and rail systems in a report from the Brookings Institution released Thursday. The cities were judged mainly on how accessible transit systems are to the areas where jobs are and on how much of the geographic area the systems cover.

The top-ranked cities were Honolulu and San Jose, respectively. New York’s transit system ranked 13th.

The Brookings study looked at the bus and train systems in major metro areas and compared them based on how frequently trains and buses ran, how accessible public transportation was to residents and how close it was to where companies are located.

In the Washington area, it examined 16 agencies that provide train, bus or other public transit services, including MARC, Metro, VRE, the Fairfax Connector and Montgomery County’s Ride On bus service.

Among the more interesting highlights of the report for the D.C. area:

l Of working-age residents, 82 percent live within three-quarters of a mile of a transit stop.

l The median wait for any rush-hour transit vehicle is 6.6 minutes. That makes the D.C. area one of five where there are frequent trains and buses almost every 10 minutes. The four others are New York, Los Angeles, Milwaukee and San Jose.

l In the D.C. area and New York, more than 35 percent of the jobs are within a 90-minute commute by either train or bus. The D.C. area has about 1.2 million jobs that are accessible in a 90-minute commute, ranking it 24th in the country.

The Brookings study, titled “Missed Opportunity: Jobs and Transit in Metropolitan America,” found that nationally 70 percent of people have access to transit systems in their neighborhoods. However, the study said much of the job growth has been spread out in suburbs, where more low-income jobs in retail and manufacturing are being created.

“There’s a mismatch,” said Robert Puentes, a senior fellow at Brookings’ Metropolitan Policy Program who is one of the authors of the study. “The low-income neighborhoods have access to transit, but more and more jobs are in the suburbs” where there’s not always reliable public transportation options.

Puentes said it is important for large transit systems such as the Washington area’s Metro system to continue to invest money to maintain rail and bus services because they are an integral part of the area’s job growth and economy.

“We need to make sure the transit system continues to function in an efficient manner in order to get workers to jobs,” he said.

Staff columnist Robert Thomson, a.k.a. Dr. Gridlock, will moderate a panel on the report at 9:30 a.m. Thursday. Participants will include Housing and Urban Development Secretary Shaun Donovan and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood. The event has reached capacity but may be viewed live at brookings.edu.

Dana Hedgpeth is the Washington Post’s lead reporter in covering the Metro rail and bus systems in the D.C. region and the Washington Metropolitan Transit Authority (WMATA) that runs them.
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