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Transit is the Answer to economic challenges

December 15, 2022

221107 RTA 1576

After more than a year of engagement, the RTA has released a draft regional transit strategic plan, Transit is the Answer, which the RTA Board of Directors will consider for adoption during their February 16 meeting. The natural follow-up question is: Transit is the answer to what?

The RTA has published a series of blogs that dive into the idea that transit is the answer to some of the most urgent challenges facing our region. Chicagoland’s public transit system contributes to our region’s economic, social, and environmental health in ways and at a scale nothing else can.

The Chicago region boasts one of the largest transit systems in the nation with approximately 1,500 miles of track, 7,500 vehicles, 400 stations, and 70 maintenance facilities representing an irreplaceable investment built over generations. This infrastructure provides over a million transit trips each day and has for decades. The economic impacts of this system are great and many.

The economic impact of transit

The RTA’s regional transit system is estimated to deliver $17.2 billion in regional benefits in 2022 alone, accounting for the agencies’ direct spending; economic impacts; and transportation, safety, and environmental benefits, including $1 billion in value through increased productivity and economic output by preventing congestion and lowering transportation costs.

While some may choose to focus only on the public subsidy invested to operate transit, it’s important to see that transit’s economic contributions are much greater and provide more than $1 billion in additional tax revenue for the state and region. Every dollar invested in our region’s public transportation sees a return of $3.86 in overall benefits for our communities.

The GDP of the 3,700 square miles connected by our regional transit system is equivalent to Switzerland’s economy. In 2019, the economic activity of the six counties where the RTA system operates accounted for 74 percent of overall economic activity for the whole state. All of this economic dynamism occurs in less than a tenth of the state's total area. Without transit and the connections it enables, this level of economic activity would not be possible.

Connecting people to jobs

Chicagoland transit integrates a magnificent diversity of all races and 135 languages into a world-class labor pool that attracts both top-tier employers and talent.

Transit directly employs thousands of people—from bus drivers to construction workers. The RTA and the Service Boards’ direct payroll, nonpayroll spending, and capital spending ripple throughout the economy and support 126,000 jobs across the region. These jobs create $3.5 billion in wages. But one of transit’s greatest benefits is its ability to spur additional job growth throughout the economy. The Chicago region’s transit system provides access to 4.2 million jobs across six counties. And the system connects approximately 8.5 million people, making it one of America’s largest marketplaces for goods and services.

An estimated 85 percent of regional commercial construction in 2017 was built within one-half mile of a transit station. Indeed, 60 percent of all new jobs added to our regional economy between 2005 and 2015 were located along high-quality public transit. Nationally, some 50,000 jobs are created for every $1 billion invested in regional public transit.

How to fight for a sustainable future for our transit system

Transit is the answer to many of the most urgent challenges facing us today, and investing in transit is key to advancing equity, growing our economy, and combating climate change. We anticipate federal COVID-19 relief funding to last through 2025. After that, our transit system faces a $730 million annual budget gap that cannot be closed by raising fares or cutting service—increased public funding is essential.

Transit is the Answer identifies potential funding solutions and lays out an agenda for advocacy and action that addresses safety, reliability, speed, and other improvements to the system. It is our shared responsibility to build a sustainable model of investment in the operations, upkeep, and modernization of our regional public transportation assets. Join our coalition to take future action and advocate with us for these solutions.

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Tagged in: Transit is the Answer | Economy | Economic impact

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