Civic Caucus Members Paul Gilje and Clarence Shallbetter
Getting to work in
the metro area: nothing to it for many; big obstacle for some.
A Civic Caucus
Focus on Competitiveness
Interview September 19, 2014
John Adams, David Broden, Janis Clay (phone), Pat Davies,
Amir Gharbi (phone), Paul Gilje, Pahoua Hoffman, Randy Johnson
(phone), Ted Kolderie, Dan Loritz, Paul Ostrow, Dana Schroeder,
Clarence Shallbetter, Blong Yang
Some, mainly low-income, people experience enormous
difficulty in arranging trips between home and work. That they
struggle with such difficulty is completely unapparent to many who
never give the work trip a second thought, simply because for them
getting to and from work is so easy. Those more fortunate workers open
the doors to their attached garages, hop in their cars, and drive
directly to a parking lot next to their jobs. Or they walk to a nearby
transit stop and are delivered within easy walking distance of their
jobs. However, because homes and jobs are so widely dispersed in the
metro area (about 80 percent of jobs are in the suburbs), neither of
those choices is readily available to significant numbers of less
No one, least of all lower-income persons,
should be penalized in seeking or accepting jobs in the Twin Cities
area simply because they don't have ready access to transportation.
Many options are available to help, including better use of now-empty
passenger seats in cars on the freeway every day. Action to alleviate
such transportation problems will help the state solve a shortage in
human capital, help employers broaden their pool of qualified job
applicants, and combat poverty by making living wage jobs more
Today's interviewees are Clarence Shallbetter and Paul
Gilje, themselves members of the Civic Caucus interview group.
Both have worked on transportation policy in previous occupations.
Shallbetter, currently a deacon of the Catholic Church, previously was
employed by the Citizens League, the Metropolitan Council, and the
Minnesota House of Representatives. Gilje formerly was employed by the
Citizens League. Today they are discussing an important relationship
between the recent Civic Caucus
Helping to solve the work trip problem will
help to maintain Minnesota's strength in human capital.
opened the discussion by highlighting the main point in the recent
Civic Caucus statement on human capital: that
the state faces a significant decline in persons of working age, with
more baby-boomers retiring than younger people coming into the work
force. Helping to alleviate transportation obstacles
for under-employed and unemployed persons will help increase the
number of potential workers.
Ideally, job seekers, whatever their incomes
or home locations in the metro area, should have equitable access to
job opportunities in the area. But lower-income persons,
particularly those without access to a car, are precluded from even
exploring the possibilities for many jobs that are reachable in a
reasonable time. A bus or rail line might run nearby, but it's not at
all assured that transit will pass close enough to the job site. There
is no "level playing field" for those job seekers. Consequently,
employers are more limited in their choices of applicants and
employees are more limited in their choices of jobs.
The discussion will concern the work trip
only, not other transportation questions. Shallbetter emphasized
that at this meeting we are addressing only one task: getting people
to and from work. While work trips are a small segment (17 percent) of
all trips in the metropolitan area, these trips are critical for well
being of families and communities. People place an entirely
appropriate premium on the amount of time and expense going to and
Today we will not address other important
transportation issues such as whether to increase the gas tax or
impose freeway tolls. Nor will we touch on air pollution, energy, or
congestion, nor address other types of trips, such as shopping or
entertainment. Moreover, while denser development can have a small
future impact on work trips in the next twenty years, the discussion
today focuses on transportation where people already live and work, a
pattern that changes very slowly over time. Most home and work
locations in this region today will be the bulk of the home and work
locations in 2050, Shallbetter predicted.
Twin Cities area homes and job locations are
widely dispersed. More than 85 percent
of all jobs in the Twin Cities metro area
are located outside the combined locations of downtown Minneapolis,
downtown St. Paul, the state Capitol, and the University of Minnesota,
Shallbetter and Gilje noted. Of all 1,600,000 jobs in the metro area,
about 80 percent are in suburbs. Data sources for today's discussion
Shallbetter and Gilje prepared and distributed a chart with
census data relating directly to the Twin Cities metro area. The data
indicate that almost one-half (49.1 percent) of all jobs in the metro
area involve a one-way trip of at least 10 miles, with large numbers
of jobs found in more than 200 zip codes in the area. This pattern,
Shallbetter said, which often places jobs close to parking lots,
require long walks from transit stops, if they exist. This means a
more personalized form of transportation service or a car is needed to
reach most of these jobs in a reasonable time.
Jobs are also widely dispersed for residents
of lower income areas. More than 75 percent of workers who live in
zip code 55411 (the near north side of Minneapolis) and in zip code
55406 (the east side of St. Paul) work outside the downtowns, the
state Capitol and the University of Minnesota. Median family income
for those locations is substantially below that of the rest of the
Personal cars dominate the work trip. More
than 77 percent of metro area workers drive alone to work; in suburbs
alone the percentage is 81 percent; in central cities, 65 percent; in
zip code 55411, 59 percent, and in zip code 55106, 71 percent.
Metro-wide carpooling is next in rank at 8.5 percent, followed by
transit, 5.3 percent; walking, 2.3 percent; taxicab, motorcycle or
other means, 1.8 percent, and working at home, 4.7 percent.
Transit accounts for 11.7 percent of work
trips for residents of the central cities; 16.5 percent for residents
of zip code 55411, and 7.1 percent, zip code 55106.
Work trip travel patterns today are not much
different from 1970s. Shallbetter cited a Citizens League report,
"Building Incentives for Drivers to Ride", which in 1973 documented a
similar dispersal of trips, calling them "analogous to a ball of yarn,
not spokes on a wheel." The report noted that in 1970, not more than
one in six workers in the metro area was employed in the two downtowns
combined, with an absolute majority employed outside the city limits
of the central cities. Also in 1970, more than 87 percent of workers
living in the near north side of Minneapolis were employed outside the
Minneapolis central business district.
Income disparities probably are more
significant today. One change from the 1970s, Shallbetter
suggested, is the presence of more disparities in health care,
education, and opportunities for livable-wage income producing work.
This region needs everyone who is able and lives here to be part of a
productive work force. A significant disparity in access to full time
livable-wage job opportunities is present in the same areas where
there are disparities in education, training and health care,
especially for people who don't own cars. Transit does a good job
providing a service competitive with the cost of parking to those
going to the two downtowns, but that covers fewer than 15 percent of
the jobs. The most serious challenge, however, is how to provide a
transportation connection service for those seeking the greater job
opportunities in the suburbs as well as for similarly situated people
who need to make suburb-to-suburb trips.
Solutions: Build on efforts already ongoing
or in early stages of development.
Shallbetter and Gilje offered the following
Participate in vanpools, with volunteer drivers, including
those sponsored by Metro Transit,
Take advantage of widespread use of smart phones to help match
drivers and riders. Such an approach offers potential to match
people with common backgrounds and interests, easing fears of
accepting rides from, or offering rides to, total strangers. Some
internet start-ups already appear on the web.
Encourage taxi drivers to explore possibilities, and obstacles,
to providing home-to-work-and-back trips.
Build on the experience of providers who serve specialized
populations, such as persons with physical challenges, children in
special education, or elderly unable to drive, to design services
that connect workers with job locations.
Broaden the offerings of providers who specialize in job
training and job placement to include getting the applicant or the
employee to and from the work site.
Explore the potential of programs such as Luft or Uber with cars
rentable by the trip door-to-door. Imagine how the service would
work if, in future years, driverless cars would be available.
Acknowledge the widespread use of the car
for work trips. According to the Census, more than 97 percent of
employed workers living in the metro area have at least one car
available. While that figure masks the difficulties that lower income
people confront, there can be no denying that the car offers
significant advantages for work trips, Shallbetter said, particularly
when one takes into consideration the time advantage in a non-stop
trip and the advantage of add-on trips such as child care trips while
going to and coming from work. During the discussion it also was noted
that some persons drive because they need to use their cars for other
trips unrelated to work during the day.
Acknowledge, too, a bit of "catch-22" for
some neighborhoods. As people make more money, one of their first
investments is the purchase of a car, Shallbetter noted. If they live
in some inner city neighborhoods they may re-locate to the suburbs,
which works against improving the neighborhoods. If their
neighborhood is attractive and a place they want to live, however,
they may decide to stay and travel the average distance others travel
to full time jobs in this region.
Some low-income immigrants use family
connections to get necessary transportation. Two guests at the
meeting Blong Yang, who serves as Minneapolis 5th ward alderman, and
Pahoua Hoffman, policy director for the Citizens League, both of whom
are Hmong, said that their immigrant communities have utilized
extended families to acquire cars for family members to get to jobs.
This approach is used much more frequently than public transit, which
some Hmong immigrants are reluctant to use, they said. It is
surprising how many cars one will see on driveways of Hmong
households, Yang said.
One Civic Caucus interviewer replied that it
is quite common in immigrant communities to see that families might be
poor in a dollars-and-cents standpoint but not in a cultural sense.
Many immigrants have an excellent ability to overcome income problems
via cooperation within their respective communities.
Census data has some shortcomings. An
interviewer pointed out that the Census Bureau doesn't factor in that
a worker may take other trips--trip chaining--while going to and from
work. An individual may hold two or three jobs, yet the Bureau
data will recognize only one of those jobs. The Bureau also associates
a worker with a definite location for a job, even though work may be
performed in many locations, such as by construction workers or
airline attendants and pilots.
It is important to hold other development
and transit issues in perspective. An interviewer reminded
attendees that today's discussion isn't about what the Twin Cities
area should look like in the future. Some persons strongly advocate
that most new residential development should be deliberately located
near transit stations. Today's discussion focuses solely on finding
creative ways today to link homes with employment locations to provide
more job choices for individuals and more employee choices for
Don't treat people as commodities. Too
often employees are regarded only as another expense in doing
business, as interchangeable commodities or as replaceable parts in a
machine, an interviewer observed. That's why it's so important not to
overlook this critical aspect of every employee's daily routine,
getting to and from work, a task almost ignored by many persons but a
task that is very difficult for others.
Learn from targeted efforts to help persons
with disabilities. An interviewer suggested that in addressing the
issue of helping people get from home to work and back we might find
some workable options in transportation strategies already in place
that provide rides for persons with disabilities.
Include race and poverty as factors in
transportation funding? An interviewer drew the attention of the
group to an
this week that features action by the Metropolitan Council. For the
first time transportation projects vying for federal dollars in the
metro area will be judged partly on whether they benefit the poor and
people of color. One question, however, is whether and how these funds
will open up year-round job opportunities that can be reached by
non-fixed-route transportation services or on bike paths.
Is the car the enemy or friend of essential
work-trip transportation?--Like it or not, an interviewer
observed, the car is the dominant mode of travel in the region.
Moreover, it could be regarded as the dominant transit mode if one
interprets transit as broadly as riding with others, not driving
alone. The interviewer asserted that substantially more people carpool
to work than take transit.
for the data list used for this presentation.
The Civic Caucus
is a non-partisan,
tax-exempt educational organization. The Interview Group
includes persons of varying political persuasions,
reflecting years of leadership in politics and
business. Click here
to see a short personal background of each.
S. Adams, David Broden, Audrey Clay, Janis Clay, Pat Davies, Bill
Frenzel, Paul Gilje (executive director), Randy Johnson, Sallie Kemper, Ted Kolderie, Dan Loritz (chair),
Tim McDonald, Bruce Mooty, John Mooty, Jim Olson, Paul Ostrow, Wayne
Popham, Dana Schroeder, Clarence Shallbetter, and Fred Zimmerman