Chicago Marks “Transportation Freedom Day”

Some Communities Around Chicago Save from Greater Access to Public Transit Activists Call for Action from Governor Quinn

(Chicago, IL) Today Chicago residents celebrate Transportation Freedom Day, the date a typical area household has earned enough to cover its transportation costs for the year. To mark the occasion, transit advocacy groups called for Governor Quinn and Mayor Daley to prioritize investment in transit.

New findings released by the Illinois Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) show that a typical Chicago family shells out the equivalent of two months of their annual salary to pay for transportation costs, taking a bigger bite out of household budgets than even food or health care. In many car-dependent Chicagoland communities, such as in the cities of Algonquin and Plainfield, households spend nearly the equivalent of three months of income just to get around.

“The cost of getting from place to place shouldn’t take such a huge slice of our paycheck, especially in these tough times,” said Alexandra Lozanoff, Field Organizer for Illinois PIRG. “People may not recognize how much they pay for transportation, because they do so in dribs and drabs. But when gas prices tip over $4 a gallon again, transportation will likely to become households’ biggest expense.”

The study found that access to high-quality public transportation is a primary factor in how much of Chicago-area residents’ income will be spent on transportation. Better access to buses and rail reduces the percentage of a household’s yearly budget dedicated to transportation expenses. Communities with greater access to transit celebrate Transportation Freedom Day sooner than communities with less transit choices.

The data to determine a communities’ Transportation Freedom Day comes from the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a leader in statistically based analysis of transportation and housing. Costs are calculated based on detailed census data on household expenses, including car ownership, maintenance, gas, parking and transit fares.

“Transportation Freedom Day is a tangible symbol, based on hard data, that demonstrates the need for greater public investments in 21st Century transportation systems,” said Center for Neighborhood Technology President Scott Bernstein. “Households in Plainfield and Algonquin are spending, on average, almost $2,500 more annually on transportation than families in Chicago and Oak Park. When government makes the right kind of transportation investments, citizens save money.”

Transportation Freedom Days in the Chicagoland area ranged from an early March in Chicago (i.e. 17% of income) where access to public transit is relatively better, compared to a late March 24th in auto-dependent Algonquin (i.e 22%). Certain transit-oriented neighborhoods in Chicago had even lower transportation expenses. The community around the Lawrence Red Line Stop in Northern Chicago celebrated its Transportation Freedom Day on February 25th.

The American Public Transportation Association calculates that a driver in Chicago could save $10,491 annually just by switching to public transportation. For APTA data for 19 other major cities, see: http://www.rtachicago.com/CMS400Min/uploadedFiles/TopTwentyCitiesTransitSavings.pdf

Community groups are urging Governor Quinn to use the federal stimulus money wisely and invest in transit.

“Shortchanging public transportation is a classic case of being pennywise and pound foolish,” added Alexandra Lozanoff. “The new Recovery Act is a golden opportunity for the Quinn Administration to invest in 21st century transportation that saves consumers money and reduces dependence on expensive oil.”

“Reducing households expenses by expanding public transit should play a lead role in our economic recovery,” stated Transit Riders’ Alliance Executive Director Richard Harnish. “Hopefully, Governor Quinn will create a new focus on this critical economic resource.

Getting around doesn’t have to be miserable or costly,” said Active Transportation Alliance Executive Director Rob Sadowsky. “Today is your chance to get out from that transportation frustration. Try biking to the park. Walk to the corner store. Tell your representative that you want better transit in your community. ”

Illinois will receive $371 million in designated funding for transit from the Recovery Act, but can spend virtually all of the $935 million in flexible “Surface Transportation Program” funding on public transit as it chooses. The STP, which has been falsely labeled the “highway” program funding, is designed to provide funding for road, bridge, transit, intercity rail, bicycle and pedestrian projects. Illinois PIRG recommends that STP funding prioritize energy-saving transit, bicycle and pedestrian projects with the remainder allocated to road and bridge repair and preventive maintenance rather than new or wider highways.

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A detailed description of cost methodology can be found at: http://htaindex.cnt.org/model_summary.

For a list of sample Transportation Freedom Days around Chicagoland and comparisons between metropolitan areas across the U.S., see: http://www.uspirg.org/TFD-Metros

Transportation Freedom Day logo found at http://www.uspirg.org/transportation/freedom-day