Key Point

People at all income levels use public transit systems at a consistently low rate – 3% or less – in our community.

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Let's Break It Down

Without additional community investment, the only way to increase access is to increase ridership rates.

For people living below the poverty line, 3% use public transportation compared to 2% of people living slightly above the poverty line, and 1% of individuals who live above the poverty line. Of those living below the poverty line, 74% use a car, truck, or van to get to work, and 4% walk.

The overall percentage of those who carpool to work within our community is 9%. However, we find that the percentage increases to 13% for those living below the poverty line, and 15% for those living slightly above the poverty line.

Increasing access and timeliness of public transit will require significant additional investment. The Omaha Master Transportation Plan noted that rider fares account for 16% of Metro’s budget, compared to the national average of 29%, making it difficult for Metro to increase access until it increases its ridership. Bluffs Tomorrow, Council Bluff’s master plan, notes that while Metro has increased routes in the city, the current model may not support local services or increase mobility between neighborhoods. We have an opportunity to invest in expanding the infrastructure of our public transit system.

 

Why Does It Matter?

Public transit is critical to many people’s access to employment, especially for the working poor.

Access to transportation is critical to accessing employment. Public transit is also a more economical way of getting from place to place. Not unlike home ownership, there are financial barriers to car ownership for many individuals in our community, ultimately increasing their reliance on the availability of public transit options to get them to and from their daily activities. For example, an unlimited METRO bus pass costs $55 per month ($660 per year) and is reduced to $27.50 for the elderly and those receiving Medicare ($330 per year). In contrast, AAA estimated that it cost $8,698 per year to own and operate a car in a year.

After housing, transportation costs are the second highest costs for families. It is important to look at both costs to understand the income needed to live in our community. In the metro-area transportation costs (car only) for the average family are 21-23% of thier total income. However, for individuals who are living below the poverty line, transportation costs can be 51-58% of their total income. After accounting for housing costs, individuals often have no income left for food, clothing, or medical care. If we had public transit options accessible for more of our community, we can reduce the costs associated with transportation, since public transit is a much more cost-effective choice. 

Additionally, fewer public transit options largely results in more cars on the road (specifically cars that we see during peak hours of traffic to and from work) which contributes to both congestion on the roads and pollution. As the EPA weighs lowering the standards of acceptable levels of ozone, our community will need to evaluate how to lessen our ozone levels to meet the stricter air pollution standards that could be put in place.

How Do We Compare?

We fall below national public transit usage rates, but are on par with our regional peers.

In the metro area, 83% of people reported driving alone to work, 10% carpooled and 1% used public transit. Nationally, 76% reported driving alone, 10% carpooled and 5% used public transit to get to and from their place of employment.

When looking at our peer cities in the Midwest, our metro-area rates of transportation use are almost identical to Kansas City, St. Louis, and Des Moines. All four cities reported that about 84% of people drove alone to work. Rates of carpooling, walking, using public transit, and biking were also similar. In all four cities, the percentage of people carpooling was greater for those living at or below the poverty line, compared to the total number of people carpooling.

Data Source: U.S. Census American Community Survey 2014 5 Year Estimates, Table B08122, Omaha Environment Element & Transportation Master Plan, Location Affordability Index, Bluffs Tomorrow

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