A study from UBC’s Sauder School of Business pinpoints the economic importance of transit by examining job numbers before and after Hurricane Sandy shut down a New York City subway.

When Sandy pummeled the city in 2012, among the lasting effects of the storm was a long-term closure of the R train tunnel connecting Brooklyn to Manhattan.

Sauder researcher Justin Tyndall found there was a rise in unemployment in the Brooklyn neighbourhoods most impacted by the subway closure, despite an improving labour market in the rest of the city.

To obtain his findings, Tyndall looked at unemployment census data before and after the hurricane to investigate the impact on the affected area. The shutdown provided a rare opportunity for a natural experiment to examine the effect of a loss of public transit that was unrelated to economic factors.

The study showed the shutdown increased the probability of residents in the neighbourhood being unemployed by 1.4 percentage points. The effect was even stronger among those without access to a vehicle (2.2 points) and for Hispanic residents (3.4 points). Tyndall says Hispanic residents may have been more impacted because many are recent immigrants who are disproportionately dependent on transit. 

Justin Tyndall“It shows how important public transit really is – if you take it away, it will hurt the economy,” Tyndall says. “A lot of work done to reduce unemployment is focused on job training. My research suggests strengthening public transit service could yield very good returns on employment growth by making a greater number of jobs accessible.”

Tyndall is currently completing a PhD in urban land economics at Sauder. His study, “Waiting for the R train: Public transportation and employment,” is forthcoming in the journal Urban Studies.

Top image source: Augie Ray on Flickr.