The Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), the National League of Cities (NLC), and the U.S. Travel Association held a briefing, as part of Infrastructure Week 2014, on public transportation’s impacts on local economies and why further investment in new and existing public transit systems has a fundamental impact on the nation’s economic vitality. The briefing explored real-world examples backed up by a research report from APTA that investigates the connection between public transit and local economic development, productivity, and job creation.

  • Michael Melaniphy, President and CEO of the American Public Transportation Association (APTA), opened the briefing (part of Infrastructure Week 2014) by talking about the key research findings in APTA’s new report, The Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment: 2014 Update. Public transportation investments enhance the free flow of people, goods and overall commerce, and makes cities better – this report attempts to measures how much better.
  • The report finds that more than 50,000 jobs (mostly private sector) are created with every $1 billion of investment in public transportation. Forty-four percent of those jobs are a direct result of the investment, with the remaining 46 percent created through productivity effects, including household savings, improved employer labor access and reduced congestion costs.
  • There is a $4 economic return to a community for every $1 invested in public transportation.
  • Based on the research, APTA’s six-year, $100 billion plan for investment in public transportation would create and sustain 1.1 million jobs, lead to $66 billion per year in business sales, and contribute $81 billion to U.S. GDP each year.
  • Productivity impacts quantified in the report include travel cost savings and worker reliability improvements from reduced traffic congestion, access to broader labor markets with more diverse skills, shifts in consumer spending due to travel savings, and additional regional growth spurred by local transit investment.
  • Local public transportation funding initiatives succeed when it is made clear what will be built, when it will be completed, and who will be held accountable. Of 62 local transit initiatives put to voters in 2012, 49 were approved (79 percent).
  • Mayor Ralph Becker of Salt Lake City, Utah, now in his second term, spoke about his city’s recent public transportation investments. Mayor Becker is also the first Vice President of the National League of Cities, and part of the President’s State, Local, and Tribal Leaders’ Task Force on Climate Preparedness and Resilience.
  • According to the mayor, Salt Lake City life “changed the day after rail opened.” Despite skepticism over whether people would get out of their cars, ridership has exceeded projections for the initial light rail line and each expansion of light or commuter rail service, with ridership sometimes doubling projections. Transit riders can interact with each other, tying the community together.
  • Since initial rail service began, every referendum to expand light and commuter rail service in the region, now planned for 70 miles in seven years, has been supported by more than 60 percent of voters.
  • City planners concluded in the 1990s that road investments alone would not enable residents to maintain healthy air and quality of life; public transportation was required. The initial spine of the system was built despite a referendum failure. The mayor stressed that the first project is always the hardest, and often the manager who starts the initial project is not the one who cuts the ribbon.
  • Mayor Becker explained that the foundation of Salt Lake City’s future is now built around transit and pedestrian access. This was accomplished by creating a vision with a path to reach that vision, partnering with people rallying around that vision, and maintaining ongoing communication and dialog to continually improve.
  • Most recently, with critical assistance from a federal TIGER grant, Salt Lake opened its new Sugarland streetcar, one year ahead of schedule and under budget. There had already been $400M of development in the area, an older part of the city with a business district that had deteriorated. It is now cited as one of the top ten neighborhoods in country. The TIGER grant enabled this to occur 20 years ahead of original plans.
  • A light rail line opened one year ago between downtown and the airport. The street it runs on was transformed from one of the “ugliest” streets in town into a “complete street” with a wide bike/pedestrian lane, new zoning, lighting, landscaping, and buried wires. Now a model arterial street, more than 1,000 new housing units have been recently built along the route.
  • The Salt Lake City region increasingly recognizes that the future of infrastructure investment should revolve around transit and pedestrian-friendly areas. Mayor Becker is hopeful that Congress will pass a surface transportation bill this year that will help the city meet the long-term infrastructure needs of today, and not the needs of decades ago. He stated, “We know what people want, we need help realigning and restructuring some of the revenues we get and the sources of revenues so we can be successful for our communities.”
  • Elliott Ferguson, President and CEO of Destination DC (, Washington D.C.’s convention and tourism organization, spoke about the infrastructure expectations of the global community visiting the city. Tourism is the fastest growing industry in D.C. In 2013, 18 million people visited the city.
  • According to Ferguson, many visitors want to, and expect to be able to, travel without a car. They do not want the added responsibilities and hassles that come with bringing a car into the city. They are accustomed to using public transportation in their cities. They want to land at an airport, take public transportation to their hotel, and fully experience the city.
  • It is projected that the United States will have 101 million international visitors in 2021. For this industry to continue growing, visitors need to have good experiences travelling around and between our cities. In China, Japan and Europe, visitors see the country from the windows of their high-speed rail car. The quality of U.S. transportation infrastructure has fallen behind other destinations and needs to catch up.

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