GUEST COMMENTARY: How Personal Finances Factor Into Home-Work Commute

The recent Brookings study looking at “job growth” and “jobs near the average resident” got me thinking again about how my past two home and workplace decisions have affected my personal finances. For those not familiar with the report, it’s mostly negative news:

Between 2000 and 2012, the number of jobs within the typical commute distance for residents in a major metro area fell by 7%. Of the nation’s 96 largest metro areas, in only 29—many in the South and West, including McAllen, Texas, Bakersfield, Calif., Raleigh, N.C., and Baton Rouge, La.—did the number of jobs within a typical commute distance for the average resident increase. Each of these 29 metro areas also experienced net job gains between 2000 and 2012.

As employment suburbanized, the number of jobs near both the typical city and suburban resident fell. Suburban residents saw the number of jobs within a typical commute distance drop by 7 percent, more than twice the decline experienced by the typical city resident (3%). In all, 32.7 million city residents lived in neighborhoods with declining proximity to jobs compared to 59.4 million suburban residents.

As poor and minority residents shifted toward suburbs in the 2000s, their proximity to jobs fell more than for non-poor and white residents. The number of jobs near the typical Hispanic (-17%) and black (-14%) resident in major metro areas declined much more steeply than for white (-6%) residents, a pattern repeated for the typical poor (-17%) versus non-poor (-6%) resident.

Residents of high-poverty and majority-minority neighborhoods experienced particularly pronounced declines in job proximity. Overall, 61% of high-poverty tracts (with poverty rates above 20%) and 55% of majority-minority neighborhoods experienced declines in job proximity between 2000 and 2012. A growing number of these tracts are in suburbs, where nearby jobs for the residents of these neighborhoods dropped at a much faster pace than for the typical suburban resident (17% and 16%, respectively, versus 7%).

For local and regional leaders working to grow their economies in ways that promote opportunity and upward mobility for all residents, these findings underscore the importance of understanding how regional economic and demographic trends intersect at the local level to shape access to employment opportunities, particularly for disadvantaged populations and neighborhoods. And they point to the need for more integrated and collaborative regional strategies around economic development, housing, transportation, and workforce decisions that take job proximity into account.

Now looking at this from a personal finance perspective, I previously lived and worked in Indianapolis where my one-way commute was roughly 16 miles. For this distance, I found over time that it cost me about $5 a day to get to work.

When I moved to Cincinnati for a new job, I first lived in Covington where I paid $1 to ride the Southbank Shuttle in the morning and usually walked home. After moving to Clifton, I still found that my now driving commute of less than 3 miles came to cost around $1 per day.

So the $5 per day Indianapolis commute cost me roughly $100 per month in gas, where the $1 per day Cincinnati commute cost me only $20. Now this may not seem like a huge amount or difference, but to most people, $80 would nearly be a full day’s work. What’s not reflected in this difference is the reduced frequency and cost related to vehicle maintenance, specifically oil and tire changes. With the greatly reduced frequency of need for these two items, the monthly savings I’ve found is closer to the full $100 amount, essentially a pay raise simply for living close to work.

Employees obviously can have little impact on where an employer chooses to locate, but they do still have control over where they live and as long as I am able, 3 miles is the maximum distance I will live from work. This distance is also interesting as I’ve found it to be the maximum distance where taking the bus is a reasonable time-cost choice, a huge benefit during the recent snowy winters, and it is also a distance where my non-work trips to downtown stay at what I think is a reasonable level for places I like to visit.

EDITORIAL NOTE: This guest commentary was authored by Eric Douglas, a native of Grand Rapids, MI who currently lives in Cincinnati’s Clifton neighborhood. Eric is a member of the Congress for New Urbanism and earned a Bachelors of Science from Michigan State University. Since that time he has worked for Planning, Community Development and Public Works departments in Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Detroit.

If you would like to have your thoughts published on UrbanCincy, simply contact us at editors@urbancincy.com.

What if we calculated level of service for pedestrians?

Level of Service. Chances are, unless you’re in a field related to transportation planning or engineering, or are a total geek, you probably have not heard of this term before. LOS, however, has come to define how we design and build or roadways. Almost by its structure, LOS favors cars over the function or safety of any other mode of transportation. So what would happen if we took the same approach for other modes, like walking? More from Urban Kchoze:

The point of a traffic engineer in most studies is to keep level of service as low as possible to avoid delays for drivers, helping them drive faster and have to wait less for other traffic. Now then, some of you may ask “well, what about pedestrians and cyclists? How is level of service measured for them?” Well, the answer to that is that the default method says: F#!% ‘em.

So let’s suppose that we calculate a level of service for pedestrians based on the same basis as for vehicles. Pedestrians can stop and accelerate to regular walking speed almost instantaneously and so we don’t have to calculate delay caused by lower than desired speeds during acceleration and deceleration. So delay is limited essentially only to the wait time before they can go ahead and cross (supposing car drivers respect pedestrian priority).

…crosswalks with medians and stop signs should be preferred to traffic lights for areas with a focus on pedestrians. It also means that the habit of channeling all the traffic on a few wide arterials, forcing each intersection to have multiple turn lanes and many through lanes, is absolutely terrible for pedestrians. A street grid with densely packed streets would do a better job of responding to all users, as it would dilute traffic on many streets, all these streets could be narrow, with 3 or 4 lanes only (1 per direction plus a shared left-turn lane or 2 per direction). Ideally, I believe there should not be any width of pavement greater than 12 meters (40 feet) in a city, any pavement wider than that should be broken in two with a median wide enough to use as a pedestrian refuge.

New Payment Technology Allows Metro, TANK to Partner on Regional Fare Card

Regular commuters who cross the Ohio River, either into Cincinnati or Northern Kentucky, are well aware of bringing the required amount of change to transfer between Metro and TANK buses. Other non-seasoned riders, however, were stuck with navigating a complex combination of transfer fees and payment options.

The region’s two largest transit agencies announced that technology afforded to them in 2011 will support the introduction of a long-anticipated regional fare payment card. Metro unveiled the shared stored-value card earlier this month at The Westin’s Presidential Ballroom during the annual State of Metro address.

Transit officials say that the card works with both TANK and Metro buses, thus eliminating the need for carrying change on either system. The card deducts the correct fare amount for each agency so if a rider boards a Metro bus it will deduct $1.75 for Zone 1 or $1.50 for a TANK bus fare.

“We are trying to make this a more seamless and integrated approach to transit.” Metro spokesperson Sallie Hilvers told UrbanCincy.

While there already is a monthly pass that can be used for both systems, the pass is limited to rides on TANK and Metro buses within Cincinnati city limits. As a result, officials from Metro and TANK believe the new shared stored-value card provides better accessibility and flexibility to people who use both systems on both sides of the river.

Behind the scenes, Metro handles the accounting for the stored-value cards so if the card is used on a TANK bus, the agency reports that usage to Metro, which then reimburses TANK for the fare.

“We’ve seen more people buying day passes and stored value passes since we introduced them.” Hilvers said.

The pass is available for purchase online, and at the 24-hour ticketing kiosks Metro began installing earlier this year. TANK’s Covington Transit Center is not yet selling the new stored-value cards, but transit officials there anticipate it becoming available in the near future.

This kind of collaboration is not what has traditionally defined the relationship between Metro and TANK, but Hilvers said that this has been years in the making and hopes that it will lead to even more collaboration in the future.

According to Hilvers, the next goal is to work with local universities to develop a standard student and faculty card that would cover access to area institutions served by both transit agencies. Currently Metro has separate agreements with the University of Cincinnati and Cincinnati State, while TANK has an agreement with Northern Kentucky University.

Such changes would seem to bode well for both Metro and TANK. In 2013, Metro reported surging ridership due to the implementation of new collaborative programs and improved fare payment technology.

While the new technology and services are a step toward a broader overhaul of the way area residents and visitors pay for and use the region’s transit networks, it is still a ways from what is considered industry best practices.

Leadership at the Southwest Ohio Regional Transit Authority (SORTA), which oversees Metro bus and streetcar operations, says that they are working on ways for riders to get real-time arrival information system-wide.

The challenge, they say, is to make sure it is a benefit available to all users. Therefore, transit officials are working to implement real-time arrival information that utilizes smartphone, adaptive website and phone service technologies. Metro representatives are tentatively saying that they are hopeful such services could be in place by spring 2015.

As the city grows in popularity, should Cincinnati hire a nightlife manager?

When more people move into the city, and more businesses open up, the level of night time activity also tends to increase. In fact, about five years ago, many policy makers were striving to create “24/7″ communities in their respective cities. Of course, not everyone can be New York, nor should they be. But as this level of nightlife increases in repopulating cities, should local governments be thinking of how to manage it? More from Urbanful:

You’ve seen the story before: A decent neighborhood starts to get noticed for its potential. A few bars come, then a few restaurants, and with them an increasingly steady stream of people. A few years down the road, it turns into a bonafide entertainment destination. It’s a story that’s playing out more and more as a growing number of people are making their way back into the cities to live. But it’s not all roses: up-and-coming neighborhoods have to manage the influx of nighttime activity their presence brings.

Pittsburgh’s renaissance has had its fair share of the issue. Business districts either border or seep into residential areas, presenting a major issue for residents. There have been grumblings for years about the noise violations, litter, parking issues, and other concerns attributed to young folks heading out to have a good time. But the city has taken a proactive approach to tackling the problem by hiring a night-time economy manager tasked with acting as a liaison between residents, local businesses and government entities to ensure all parties are satisfied in the development of the nighttime economy.

The world’s best cities have lots of traffic congestion, and that’s a good thing

When discussing transportation, the difference between traffic and congestion is often lost. There is, however, a difference between the two and that often plays a significant role in the livability of a city. What we have learned over the years is that congestion is often a good thing, particularly in cities. More from Streetsblog USA:

The pattern that emerges is that the places with the most traffic and driving also have the least congestion…Swan notes that the most congested places are also the places where people have good travel options that don’t involve driving. His chart suggests that car congestion itself is not the problem that needs to be solved — as long as there are other ways to get around, in a congested city few people will actually have to sit in traffic.