Transit Raises Property Values, Lowers Poverty

Cleveland's RTA is facing service cuts and fare hikes. Photo: Angie Schmitt
Cleveland's RTA is facing service cuts and fare hikes. Photo: Angie Schmitt

Neighborhoods with transit access enjoy higher property values and lower poverty rates, according to a new study by researchers at Cleveland State University.

The study isolated neighborhoods in Cleveland that gained transit access after previously lacking it, using statistical modeling to control for other factors. The research team found that neighborhoods that gained access to transit saw property values rise by 3.5 percent and poverty rates fall by almost 13 percent after 10 years. Those neighborhoods saw overall employment climb 3.5 percent.

“RTA is fantastic investment for taxpayers,” said Obed Pasha, an assistant professor at Cleveland State and one of the studies authors. “Not only does it help lift people out of poverty, it helps revitalize neighborhoods.”

Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority spends about $182 million annually in Cuyahoga County. Between commuting, rides to medical appointments, trips to school and consumer shopping trips, the study estimated the agency returns about $321 million annually in economic activity, the study estimated. That includes $23 million in annual savings for the Cleveland Municipal School District.

In addition, the study estimates the agency creates about 2,900 jobs for the region, through direct employment within the agency and boost in employment at local businesses that benefit from RTA service.

Transportation is a big obstacle for low-income workers in Cleveland. The region has a serious “spatial mismatch” problem, where entry-level jobs are located far away — in exurbs — from urban neighborhoods with high unemployment, the report notes.

The biggest entry-level job centers in Cleveland are in the exurbs, far away from urban neighborhoods with high unemployment. Map: Cleveland State University
The biggest entry-level job centers in Cleveland are in the exurbs, far away from urban neighborhoods with high unemployment. Map: Cleveland State University

Meanwhile, Greater Cleveland Regional Transit Authority has been struggling with budget shortfalls, and was forced to raise fares and reduce service in recent years — a pattern known to transit advocates as a “transit death spiral.” But local officials have declined to introduce a tax measure that could help the struggling agency.

9 thoughts on Transit Raises Property Values, Lowers Poverty

  1. wow, maybe in Cleveland but please send this to Providence, Pawtucket, and Woonsocket city governments where in the last few years there have been efforts to close downtown bus stations or move them away from the center city. The biggest downtown property owner in Providence (its former Mayor, Joe Paolino) is actually suing to stop a suggested transit (and bike) improvement.
    Part of the issue in RI is the bus system is so strongly associated with the poor and people of color This is more of the case than usual as low income seniors and disabled can ride free, even in rush hours which I believe has the effect of depressing transit use for all others and we have an unusually low commute-by-transit rate. Its politically difficult to deal with this, maybe this article can help.

  2. “lowers poverty”…. by pushing poor people out of their neighborhoods through gentrification caused by renewed public investment to prime the area for new demographics…
    I’m all for better transit (grew up in an area not well served by it) but this piece really fails in its inability to see who the investment is for, why it happens, and what it causes… not sure how you can write about this topic and omit transit gentrification and really not sure how any can say “Not only does it help lift people out of poverty, it helps revitalize neighborhoods.” without being fired from their planning job.

  3. Neither extreme is correct. What gets a little old, however, is how progressive transportation advocates seem to often fall back on the same trope of “a rising tide lifts all boats” when it comes to increasing transit access. If poverty rates lower and employment increases simply because people below the poverty line are pushed out to a new area when transportation is improved, then transportation access didn’t do anything to address the issue. It simply shifted the issue somewhere else. It would be nice to at least see these sort of articles mention that issue.

  4. The continued erosion of the transit system in Cleveland will be the final death nail. So many of the “working poor” are barely hanging on with its use as a last option. It’s short sighted to believe public transportation is nothing but a miracle. Should autonomous cars someday have the ability to shuttle people from one side of town to the other for $25 a month then I can see is no longer needing it until then, it’s vital to the community. Plus, how many fat cats out in Westlake need bus transportation for their non-union, underpaid workers to show up. Be careful what you wish for.

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  6. Completely agreed, I was just using that extreme to make a point.

    Your points are correct but I haven’t seen any data to back up improving transit gentrifies an area, maybe I’ve just missed it. People in poverty are most likely to use transit in the first place, so if you can increase their quality of life and more importantly save them time with improved transit then you’re greatly helping them.

    I would always argue to improve transit starting with denser, higher poverty areas first.

  7. Well, in Chicago where I live, I think the more generalized feeling is that transit improvements only happen in neighborhoods that are already gentrifying. That’s not 100% true, as the red line expansion on the south side under consideration, and the prior red line improvement project on the Dan Ryan portion, were done in areas of the City considered more economically depressed. That said, the majority of “new” station development has occurred in areas where economic development is already at a fast pace. If people feel that improvements only ever happen when the neighborhood is already changing in ways that exclude them, the danger starts to be that the improvements are viewed as simply adding fuel to the fire. And to be fair, sometimes those people are probably right.

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