By: Transportation Alliance
Published: Wednesday, May 30, 2012
The developers of Walk Score and Transit Score recently released transit scores for entire cities, notes an April 2012 post by Richard Florida on The Atlantic Cities web site. The transit scores are an add-on feature to their web-based tool for providing walk scores and transit scores for individual addresses. The original transit score indicates how well public transportation serves a given address. Among the 25 largest cities in the U.S. Baltimore has the 9th best transit score and Washington DC the 4th best. We have heard from many who are surprised by the high ranking for Baltimore. A few points about the methodology of the study better explain how Charm City made it on the Top 10 list:
· How Transit Score Assigns a Score to a City. Scores are given on a scale of 0 to 100, with scores over 90 being a “rider’s paradise.” The new, citywide scoring aggregates the data from addresses throughout a city to provide a single transit score that reflects the level of public transportation service for an entire city. It gives greater weight to the transit scores derived from addresses in heavily populated parts of a city than it does to scores derived from more sparsely populated parts of a city.
· Weak Competition. The rankings are high, but the transit scores are not. No cities received transit scores above 90. Only two cities, New York and San Francisco, received transit scores above 80. So Baltimore with a transit score of 57 finished among the top ten in a field that was not very competitive.
· What it Really Measures. Transit Score measures how close a bus or train route comes to a given address. It also measures how frequently the service runs. It gives double points for rail services such as light rail, subway, and commuter trains. In general, the higher the Transit Score, the easier it is to get on board a public transportation vehicle, especially a train.
· What it Does Not Measure. Transit Score does not measure whether the transit system gets you where you need to go. Nor does it measure how efficiently it gets you somewhere. Imagine two scenarios. In one a train stops near your house and within 15 minutes gets you to your place of work, your school and/or your preferred places to shop. In the other scenario a train stops near your house and then winds slowly through a ravine before proceeding along a highway median with none of your destinations within walking distance of the stations. In either scenario your home address would receive the same transit score. At the city scale the Transit Score does not measure how efficiently the system works. As the journalist Ben Goldman puts it “it primarily reflects how easy it is to get to transit, rather than where you can go and what you can do with transit once you’re on it.”
· Other Measures Corroborate the Top Ten Ranking. Two other indicators of how well a transit system serves a city corroborate Transit Score’s finding that Baltimore is among the top ten. One is the percentage of workers who commute by transit. Based on 2010 American Community Survey estimates by the Census Bureau, 18 percent of workers age 16 and over who live in Baltimore City commute to work by public transportation. By that measure, compared with the same set of 25 largest cities as used by Transit Score, Baltimore ranks 8th. The other indicator comes from a 2011 study done by the Brookings Institution called Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America. The report compares cities and regions based on how easily a resident can get to public transportation and then get to the region’s jobs. Among other things the report lists the percentage of a region’s jobs that a resident of the central city can reach in 90 minutes or less using public transportation. By that measure, if compared with just the set of 25 cities ranked by Transit Score, Baltimore City would rank 8th.
· Serving the Region. The Transit Score rankings are based on cities, but most Americans live, work and shop regionally. The majority of U.S. jobs are located in suburbs, not central cities. Many commuters cross city and/or county lines getting to and from work. For those reasons most analyses of travel behavior and transportation options compare metropolitan regions. Unfortunately, with regard to transit service, the Baltimore-Towson Metropolitan Region does not compare as favorably to its peers as Baltimore City does to other cities. When the Brookings report assigned composite scores to regions to measure the ability of people in both central cities and suburbs to not only get on board public transportation but also ride it to a job, the Baltimore-Towson region ranked 15th among the respective metropolitan regions of the 25 cities ranked by Transit Score. In general, by that measure, metropolitan regions in western states ranked higher than the rest. This may be due in part to the fact that eastern regions tend to have older transit systems with routes that were laid out when the vast majority of jobs were located in central cities. They no longer connect places where people live with places where employers are located.
Like Walk Score, Transit Score is a useful and easy-to-understand tool for evaluating certain characteristics of neighborhoods and cities. However, regarding transit service, it is misleading to rely on Transit Score’s measure of one’s ability to board a transit vehicle without also considering the ability to efficiently reach destinations (especially jobs). Also, comparing metropolitan regions is a much more useful indicator of capacity and efficiency in transit service than just comparing cities. Regions that can adapt their transit routes to more efficiently transport people to locations where today’s jobs are located will likely see more people riding public transportation.
For more information about Walk Score and Transit Score, please visit http://www.walkscore.com/transit/.