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How much is Columbus Missing Out on Without Rail Transit?

Walker Evans Walker Evans How much is Columbus Missing Out on Without Rail Transit?
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Columbus has regularly been cited as the largest city in the United States with no passenger rail transit service of any kind at all. And yet, despite that fact, our city seems to be doing ok. Urban Analyst Aaron Renn has referred to Columbus as “The New Midwestern Star” and recently stated that Columbus has “been growing at a reasonably rapid clip in both population and jobs, beating the US average significantly, though not measuring up to the Sunbelt boomtowns. Columbus is basically what I mean by the ‘best practices’ city.”

So does Columbus actually need passenger rail service? Aren’t we doing pretty well without it?

“Those are famous last words,” says Art Guzzetti, the Vice President of Policy at The American Public Transportation Association (APTA).

“We’re doing pretty well aren’t we?” he echoes. “That is not a forward-looking approach required to make a community grow. What does Columbus aspire to be as a region in the future, and how can we all observe the trends that are already happening? It’s better to figure out how we can skate to where the puck is going.”

Guzzetti hopes that some of the answers can be found in a new report released this month by APTA that showcases new information about the economic impact of public transportation investments. He’ll be speaking today as a special guest at a Columbus Metropolitan Club luncheon focused the ROI of public transit.

“This report was intended to be a new benchmark for a new way of monetizing the impact of transit projects and investments,” explains Guzzetti. “In the past it was too often that people were saying that transportation projects would create a certain number of jobs only looking at the construction phase. That’s important, but you can create those kinds of jobs spending money in a lot of different ways. Transit investment does more than that — it sparks development in the community with ongoing, permanent jobs and provides new access and increased productivity. The report puts some new numbers to that.”

The analysis reveals that every $1 billion dedicated to transit spending produces more than $3.7 billion in additional GDP per year after 20 years. That calculation takes into consideration not just the direct investment in transit spending, but also the community’s productivity gains from a reduction in automobile traffic, business access to a larger labor market and talent pool as well as other factors.

“Columbus has been trending positive in so many ways,” says Guzzetti. “It’s a state capital, a university town, and a city that’s growing — it has a lot going for it, but how can you keep working on making the city appealing in the future? Public transit has to be a part of that future because the needle is moving in that direction all around the country.”

Additional reports from APTA back up Guzzetti’s claims with a variety of findings:

The “Millennials & Mobility: Understanding the Millennial Mindset” report states that 40% of Millennials feel the need to be digitally connected during travel, 46% state that their need to save money drives their transportation choices and 35% say they live in a community where it makes sense to use transit.

The “A New Partnership: Rail Transit and Convention Growth” report finds a direct relation between airport-based rail transit services and convention center competitiveness. Hotel performance in cities with rail connections are 10% higher than “non-rail” cities, and hotels within close proximity to rail stations have a 12.5% higher occupancy rate and 50% higher room rates.

The “New Real Estate Mantra – Location Near Public Transportation” study shows that unsurprisingly, properties all across the US that are in close proximity to transit stops outperform their regions as a whole by over 41%.

“I spend a lot of time looking at cities, but it’s not my place to specifically say a Streetcar would be right for Columbus,” says Guzzetti when asked about the previously proposed local system. “Streetcars have worked well in other markets, but its up to the community to decide. I do know there is a visioning process coming forward, and I hope that’s the opportunity for Columbus to come up with a long range plan to spark economic development and create a vibrant community for younger generations.”

To read the full “Economic Impact of Public Transportation Investment” report from APTA, CLICK HERE (PDF).

For more information about the Columbus Metropolitan Club luncheon, visit www.columbusmetroclub.org.

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