Job recovery? Yes. Shorter commutes? Reverse commuters struggle

  • Article by: EMMA NELSON , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 13, 2014 - 9:19 PM

Reverse suburban commuters face transportation challenges outside the Twin Cities.

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Alisha Anderson, a reverse commuter, begins her shift at Rodizio Grill in Maple Grove.

Photo: JEFF WHEELER • jeff.wheeler@startribune.com,

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It didn’t take long for Alisha Anderson to realize there wasn’t a bus to take her home from work.

After she’d grown used to driving from her Minneapolis Uptown apartment to her Maple Grove restaurant job, a car accident forced her to change her commute. Two buses and one hour got her to work, but the express bus she took from downtown Minneapolis to Maple Grove runs in that direction only until early evening, with no return service at night.

“I guess they accommodate the high-need times,” Anderson said. “I’d probably be the only one back home on the bus at 9:30 at night.”

As the recession recedes, more jobs are emerging. But less than a quarter of them in the Twin Cities metro are in the urban core, and most of those are white-collar. As a result, there’s a daily migration of service employees like Anderson who live in the Twin Cities but work in the suburbs — a group that often relies on a transit system designed for commuters making the ­opposite trip.

The phenomenon of jobs moving to the suburbs stagnated during the recent recession but is picking up again, according to an April 2013 report from the Brookings Institution. In the Twin Cities metro, the only job growth from 2000 to 2010 happened outside downtown areas, according to the report.

The Metropolitan Council is taking aim at the transit difficulties that many of those new suburban jobholders have with projects like the Southwest Corridor light-rail line. This week, the council will release a new regional transit equity plan intended to make good on commitments laid out in its long-term plan. The equity plan intends to improve transit access regionally, with a focus on rapid bus transit, light rail and bus stop improvements in underserved areas.

But some are skeptical of the effect that plan will have.

The Minnesota faith-based coalition Isaiah, which advocates for issues that include equitable transit, released a statement Thursday calling for improvements to the Southwest Corridor plan and saying the Met Council’s equity plan doesn’t go far enough.

“So far, the Met Council’s announced ‘Transit Equity Initiatives’ seem to substantively address only the demand for bus shelters, and incompletely at that,” the statement said.

Anthony Newby is the executive director at Neighborhoods Organizing for Change, which has been working with Isaiah and other community partners and transit riders on equity issues along the Southwest Corridor. He said these groups are disappointed by what they know so far about the Met Council’s equity plan.

“It seems like it has ignored all of the community demands that were on the table and that we felt we were using as negotiating tools,” he said.

Met Council and Metro Transit staff have said the plan is in early stages, he said, and the conversation isn’t over. Newby said he hopes conversation will include input from people who use transit daily.

“We’re optimistic that the negotiations going forward will include more of a transit-rider base,” he said.

The call of the suburbs

Yingling Fan, an associate professor in the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, found in recent research that about 22 percent of jobs in the metro are located within 4 miles of city centers. Of those jobs, 71 percent are white-collar.

Evita Ellis sees the lack of blue-collar and service jobs in the urban core firsthand. She works at the nonprofit Hired, helping young people on Minneapolis’ North Side find employment. But there aren’t many jobs in the area.

“For those who live on the North Side, what opportunities do they have? Really, none,” she said. “We have to go out to Crystal, Brooklyn Park, Brooklyn Center.”

Though working in the suburbs can mean a long commute, it can also mean higher pay and a better work environment, Ellis said.

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