Study: Loss of Public Transit in Chicago Would Have ‘Severe’ Mobility, Economic Consequences

The first-of-it’s kind study found that without public transit, Chicago would lose an estimated $35 billion in economic activity annually and the quality of life of residents, particularly women and low-income groups, would take a major hit.

2 minute read

June 10, 2024, 9:00 AM PDT

By Mary Hammon @marykhammon

Chicago Transit

JW_PNW / Shutterstock

An article from Eureka Alert outlines a new study by the U.S. Department of Energy’s Argonne National Laboratory and MIT that looks at the role the public transit system plays in Chicago — and what would happen if it were eliminated. “The research, presented at a Chicago Transit Authority board meeting in May, identifies major consequences, including increased vehicle congestion, reduced economic activity and a disproportionate impact on underserved communities and minorities,” the article reads.

Researchers say the study is the first they know of to quantify transit value across multiple metrics, which they achieved by modeling a day in Chicago without public transit using Argonne’s POLARIS transportation simulation tool. In addition, “The study assumed that households who did not currently own a car as well as those who owned only one would need to purchase additional vehicles, leading to a 30% increase in vehicle car ownership and causing an economic burden on those households.” They found travel times would increase from around 25 to 34 minutes and speeds would decrease by 14 percent in both urban and suburban areas. Results also revealed reduced access to opportunities would lead people — in particular women and low-income groups — to simply cancel activities, around two million activities daily, which would result in an estimated $35 billion annual loss in economic activity. Overall, the study found that for every $1 invested in transit, $13 in economic activity is created, in addition to travel time savings, increased access to opportunities, and lower vehicle emissions and the resulting health benefits.

The analysis comes as CTA, like many major transit networks across the city after the pandemic, faces major budgetary and operational challenges. Local news outlet WGN9 recently reported ridership has only recovered by 60 percent compared to prepandemic levels, driven by severe service cuts, reliability issues, and staffing shortages. With the expiration of federal COVD relief, the region’s transportation agencies — CTA, Pace, and Metra — face a projected 2026 budget gap of $730 million if additional revenue streams are not secured.

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