When hundreds of city residents rallied outside City Hall to call attention to the issue of job access-particularly for New Haven’s low income residents-Mayor Toni Harp pledged, among other things, to examine bus routes in order to address transportation as a barrier to work opportunities.
It turns out that was just one component of a comprehensive plan that aims to improve New Haven transportation as a whole. The initiative is Go New Haven Go-a blueprint that looks to revise bus routes, create more bike lanes, and ease the burden of transit fare for city residents.
Mayor Harp unveiled the plan in a press conference last Monday.
“There are staggering estimates about how much time Connecticut residents lose when en route; that lost time and productivity is never recaptured-it’s such a terrible waste,” Harp said. “New Haven residents face that same frustration when navigating inefficient bus routes, congested streets, and parking challenges in our city.”
More than a quarter-27 percent, to be exact-of New Haven households do not have access to a car, according to CT Data Haven. Low income families-those making less than $50,000 a year-are ten times less likely to have an automobile than families above that threshold.
“If it’s as much as 25 percent of city residents who are not able to drive to work, then alternatives are in order,” said Laurence Grotheer, Communications Director for the Harp Administration.
More than 14 percent of the city’s low income residents rely on those alternatives. That’s the portion that utilizes public transit, according to CT Data Haven.
“I think the goal is to have more direct access to jobs in the suburban areas,” Grotheer said.
That will be driven primarily by changes to the structure of the bus route system, he said.
“That’s more complicated,” Grotheer said. “Each bus route that’s changed impacts another bus route. The whole network would have to be changed all at once.”
It’s early, but the Harp Administration-working in partnership with the Connecticut Department of Transportation and CT Transit-would like to see a realignment that limits gridlock in downtown New Haven.
“Someone from Hamden can get a bus to West Haven without having to go downtown and avoid the congestion of the urban center,” Grotheer said. “Buses that run into the urban center and back out, those are becoming outdated and obsolete.”
The alternative is a system that “orbits” the region’s urban center, taking residents from sections of the city and directly to the suburban communities where they might work, Grotheer said.
Meanwhile, Go New Haven Go will look to establish a “centralized” transit hub and look for ways to allow more residents to walk or bike to work. The initiative also includes a pretax benefit program for city employees that allows for up to $245 per month to be set aside for transportation purposes. Up to $20 per month in bike-related expenses is reimbursable under the program.
Community organizers-particularly those with the group New Haven Rising-would like to see residents have more access to jobs within the city, but right now, many work opportunities lie in the surrounding municipalities. Last month’s New Haven Rising rally focused particularly on the unemployment rates for low income, African American and Hispanic residents. Meanwhile, 75 percent of African Americans commute to jobs outside of New Haven, according to CT Data Haven.
Connecticut Works reported that transportation was the primary factor-cited by 84 percent of its program participants-in determining job access, or lack thereof, according to CT Data Haven.
New Haven’s situation is not unique. In metropolitan areas throughout the country, residents of “urban centers” are finding jobs harder to reach, according to multiple reports by The Brookings Institute. And like in the Greater New Haven area, low income neighborhoods are feeling the impact the most.
Between 2000 and 2012, 61 percent of high poverty neighborhoods saw jobs move further away, according to one study published by The Brookings Institute.
So are work opportunities shifting away from the Greater New Haven area’s urban center as well? Numbers from CT Data Haven would suggest otherwise. As of 2012, inner and outer ring suburban communities saw a 5 percent loss in jobs. In the City of New Haven, however, there was a 5 percent increase.
Healthcare-already the largest employment sector in the city-dominated the job influx. Construction, manufacturing, and retail, however, saw losses, according to CT Data Haven-a trend that is consistent with national statistics.