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TheBus No. 1 in rides to work

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When it comes to getting on public transportation, Honolulu is tops.

The 40-year-old islandwide bus system — TheBus — had the best coverage and proximity to workplaces out of 100 cities surveyed in a two-year study conducted by the Brookings Institution, a Washington, D.C., think tank.

About 97 percent of Honolulu’s working-age residents are near a transit stop, much higher than the 100-city average of 69 percent, according to the report, released Thursday. The report analyzed 371 transit providers and used a three-fourths-mile radius to measure whether a resident was near a transit stop.

The report attributed Honolulu’s "long-standing urban containment policies, highly constrained geography and a relatively centralized employment base" as the reasons that 60 percent of jobs on the island are reachable within 90 minutes via public transit.

HOW PUBLIC TRANSIT SERVES LABOR FORCE

Top areas for workers with transit access and percent coverage:

1. Honolulu, 97.0
2. Los Angeles-Long Beach-Santa Ana, 96.0
3. San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara, Calif., 95.6
4. El Paso, Texas, 94.3
5. San Francisco-Oakland-Fremont, 91.7
6. Modesto, Calif., 90.4
7. New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, 89.6
8. Salt Lake City, 89.0
9. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-Pompano Beach, 88.8
10. Las Vegas-Paradise, 85.5

Source: Brookings Institution

 

For Honolulu, all levels of wage earners live in transit-accessible areas. About 95 percent of low-income wage earners had access, while 98 percent of both middle- and high-income earners had access.

"It’s a combination of a substantial amount of service on the road, with fortuitous land use where you have development patterns and employment areas that just make it a better place for transit," said Roger Morton, president and general manager of Oahu Transit Services.

The city’s bus system has exactly 100 routes, about 4,000 bus stops and 525 buses.

The median wait time for any rush-hour transit vehicle is 9 minutes in Honolulu, according to the report. The 100-city average was 10.1 minutes.

Transit coverage is highest in Western metro areas such as Honolulu and Los Angeles, and lowest in Southern metro areas such as Chattanooga, Tenn., and Greenville, S.C., the report stated.

Chattanooga ranked last out of 100 cities, its system’s geographical coverage being rated the worst. That’s because Chattanooga doesn’t invest in mass transit, and serving residents in suburbs has not been financially possible, Chattanooga Area Regional Transportation Authority Executive Director Tom Dugan said in an report.

Honolulu has the opposite situation, Morton said.

"Elected officials have always been willing to support transit here, so there’s a high level of service," Morton said.

Morton said many metropolitan areas are saddled with urban sprawl and decentralization of jobs.

"Our demographics are such that some people with the more vulnerable incomes live the furthest away, and that’s usually not the case," Morton said. "Usually it’s the more affluent that live the furthest out."

The national average of access to jobs within 90 minutes was about 30 percent. Robert Puentes, co-author of the report, said that’s not enough.

"This is about how we become more productive, more competitive, more successful," he said in a statement. "Rising gas prices make that harder, so people need reliable alternatives."

Puentes said transportation strategies must improve the efficiency of labor markets and provide access to jobs.

"Public transit may be the answer in parts of some metros; in others it may be company-contracted transportation or ride-sharing or carpooling," he said. "The strategy needs to fit the situation."

Honolulu has traditionally done well in national public transit surveys. TheBus is often touted as among the nation’s best public transportation systems.

In a U.S. News and World Report listing earlier this year, Honolulu was ranked eighth in its list of the "10 Best Cities for Public Transportation."

"Honolulu is the only city among the top 10 that does not have an urban rail system," U.S. News and World Report said, adding that high ridership of TheBus helped boost the city to No. 4 in per capita public transit usage.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 7.5 percent of Honolulu’s workers 16 years and older (a work force that totals 446,725 people) used public transportation from 2005 to 2009.

On the Net:
» For the full report, visit www.brookings.edu/reports/2011/0512_jobs_and_transit.aspx.

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