Residents across Northeast Ohio are faced with an untenable choice: a commute by public transit that can be as long as three hours every day, an expensive commute by car that can consume more than an hour’s worth of wages, or a significantly smaller set of employment options closer to home. Too many residents find themselves stuck in an intractable scenario: no car, no job; no job, no car.
Meanwhile, employers face hiring and retention challenges as long commutes increase turnover and, as a result, the cost of doing business.
These realities are the result of fragmented, unaligned development across Northeast Ohio; for decades, industrial, commercial and residential development has sprawled outward, but there has been no net increase in jobs or population to substantiate the regional spread.
While the disconnect between people and jobs is a growing national challenge, in Northeast Ohio, the problem is getting worse more quickly than in other markets. And it matters. The disconnect between people and jobs exacerbates racial inequities, limits economic mobility, harms the region’s businesses, and diminishes the overall health of our economy.
Residents in Northeast Ohio spend between 24 percent and 29 percent of their income on transportation, a large part of which is the cost of commuting to work (check out the interactive H+T Affordability Index from the Center for Neighborhood Technology for more granular information about transportation costs in Northeast Ohio). This is not to mention the time spent commuting that can be spent on more constructive tasks. According to the Brookings Institution, only one-quarter of jobs in low and middle-skill industries are accessible via transit within 90 minutes. (For more information on local commuting patterns by car and public transportation, see interactive maps at www.jobhubsneo.org.)
The hardest hit residents? People of color.
Racially motivated national and local policies have driven segregated development patterns and community disinvestment, and prevented people of color, particularly black Northeast Ohioans, from building wealth. Regional areas of economic distress are disproportionally populated by black residents and the fastest growing job hubs are located in communities that are disproportionally white (see map below).
Northeast Ohio’s traded-sector job hubs relative to its non-white communities. Source: 2016 5-year ACS data
In the Cleveland MSA, the number of black residents who do not own a vehicle is almost four times that of white residents. This challenge is particularly acute in high-poverty neighborhoods. For example, 56 percent of residents in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood, populated by 90 percent black residents and one of the region’s most distressed, do not have access to a vehicle.
To get to work in Solon, the region’s fastest growing job hub with living-wage, accessible manufacturing jobs, carless residents face a commute of more than 90 minutes and two transfers—each way. This same commute by car would be under 30 minutes. People of color and low-income Americans who tend to have the longest commutes are also less likely to use new shared mobility services because of barriers like accessibility and lack of technology infrastructure.
This amounts to distance discrimination. Left unaddressed, these obstacles are likely to worsen.
We are no longer living in a world where transportation options need to be limited to a choice between individualized car ownership or a traditional bus. We can eradicate The Transportation Paradox if we embrace seamless mobility solutions that transcend barriers to entry for disadvantaged communities by addressing them head-on.
In Northeast Ohio, the Fund for Our Economic Future is working in partnership with transit agencies, and public, private and nonprofit leaders to create a testing ground for potential alternative options, including ride-sharing solutions like SHARE, neighborhood-based designs like EmpowerBus, car/van-pooling services like Enterprise RideShare, and on-demand services like Transloc. Through The Paradox Prize, an open call for ideas, we hope to source solutions that can break The Transportation Paradox.
Done right, in conjunction with an effective, efficient public transportation system, mobility solutions have the potential to dramatically increase prospects for economic advancement for Northeast Ohio’s un- and underemployed residents and improve the ability for area businesses to fill thousands of open jobs across the region. Our region’s mix of urban, suburban, and rural communities—all facing this same challenge—make Northeast Ohio a prime place to demonstrate what’s possible for regions around the country.
Northeast Ohio needs your big ideas! We hope you’ll join us in addressing The Transportation Paradox. Applications for The Paradox Prize are now being accepted at paradoxprize.com.
 The Brookings Institution, “The Growing Distance Between People and Jobs in Metropolitan
 The Brookings Institution, “Missed Opportunity: Transit and Jobs in Metropolitan America,” 2011, page 64.