At the start of 2020, the Greater Loop business district was on a hot streak. Rising numbers of corporations tapped into our reservoir of human capital.
Now, the prospect of a sustained downtown slump and the anticipated shift of many jobs to more outlying locations raises the specter that more workers who lack cars won’t be able to fully participate in the economic recovery.
Even those who can drive will face greater cost and unpredictably, in part due to having longer trips and facing growing congestion due to ebbing transit use. The pool of applicants for jobs will become smaller and more homogenous, creating roadblocks to innovation and expansion, slowing our region’s economic recovery.
Fortunately, many ways to combat these problems are within our grasp. In addition to maintaining our bus and rail network—a top priority—we must also redouble efforts to weave together the many disconnected parts of our transportation system.
How about offering a flat $5 ticket for riders using both Chicago Transit ity and Metra services within the city and close-in suburbs? Or giving low-income commuters a discount when combining e-scooter trips and CTA buses and trains? Or giving inner-city workers working nights at suburban warehouses discounted ridershare trips to and from nearby transit stops?
Our public agencies appear hungry to test such strategies. The city of Chicago’s latest e-scooter pilot and new electric (pedal-assist) Divvy bike-sharing programs, both launched this year, are showing promise.
As reported in Crain’s, the CTA has shown interest in talking with Uber. Metra is providing more onboard space for bicycles. County governments are exploring new ways to draw on pre-pandemic successes that involve shuttles, vanpools and other outside-the-box strategies. But such efforts must now kick into high gear.
Linking our multitalented workforce to jobs is shaping up to be a massive post-pandemic problem. To assure that diversity isn’t left behind, we also need to put our transportation system through a form of Gestalt therapy, creating linkages that make the whole greater than the sum of the parts.
Joseph P. Schwieterman is a professor and director of the Chaddick Institute for Metropolitan Development in Chicago. He is the of “Terminal Town: An Illustrated Guide to Chicago’s Airports, Bus Depots and Train Stations.”