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Region's biggest employers are tough for city's poorest to reach

If you're a poor Buffalo resident and want to get to some of the biggest employers in Erie County, prepare to spend a lot of time on the bus.

Four of the county's biggest employment hubs are located outside of the city – a good distance from the bulk of poor residents who live within the city limits.

So while a West Side resident with a car, for instance, can zip to Geico in Amherst in just over 20 minutes, someone making the same trip without a car can expect to spend nearly an hour and 20 minutes using public transit to get to the same place. From the East Side, the same trip still takes more than twice as long by bus, according to a report to be released today by the Partnership for the Public Good, a community think tank in Buffalo.

This mass transit burden disproportionately hurts poor people of color. It also limits the pool of prospective employees major companies want to reach to meet their hiring needs, according to the group's new "Working Toward Equality" report. The report focuses on local issues of race, employment and public transportation.

"We're famous for short commutes here, but that's only if you have a car," said Sam Magavern, executive director of the partnership.

Early risers work to make ends meet

The report being released today updates the group's report last year, and it casts a spotlight on the local relationship between race and employment, including grim race statistics for the region:

  • Buffalo-Niagara remains the sixth most racially segregated metropolitan region in the nation, with 64 percent of people of color living in concentrated poverty.
  • The region ranks seventh highest in terms of segregation by income, with income segregation growing, not shrinking, over the last decade.
  • In Erie County, black workers earn 74 cents, and Hispanic workers earn 73 cents, for every dollar earned by white workers.
  • While the region continues to climb out of the Great Recession from 2010 and 2011, with unemployment figures falling among all major racial groups, the employment gap among these races persists.

Magavern said the Partnership for the Public Good chose to focus on public transportation in this year's report since strong public transit is considered one of the best equalizers for racial and socioeconomic disparities when it comes to employment.

[Read: Working Toward Equality Report 2017]

As it stands, he said, more than half the jobs in Erie County are not accessible by public transportation. And even the jobs that are reachable beyond the city limits take two to three times as long to get to by public transit. Magavern referred to this as a "travel time penalty" that disproportionately hurts poor people of color.

"The time you spend on the bus versus doing other important things in life, that's something worth more public discussion," he said.

He pointed out that among the population of users who do use public transportation, non-white riders still spend many more hours a year using the transportation system than white riders do.

Moreover, while minority residents living in the city struggle with access to suburban employers, minority residents living outside Buffalo face an even tougher situation, he said. He pointed to the cutbacks to bus services to residents in Lackawanna's First Ward, as an example.

"Those people are really in bad shape if they don't have a car," he said.

Transit riders air grievances in Lackawanna march to bus stop

The report advocates for more funding for the Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority for more bus lines and more frequent service. The report also asks that public incentives for private companies adhere to smart growth policies and prioritize incentives for those companies that locate on high-frequency public transit lines.

Magavern said the NFTA was not given an advance copy of the report, but he expects the agency would agree with many of the report's conclusions.

"The overriding message is, they need more money," he said. "We're very pro-public transportation, and obviously so are they since that's their main mission."

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