On 13 November 2020, our PBL colleague Jeroen Bastiaanssen passed his PhD Viva, at the UK Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds, on the role transport is playing in the labour market. His comparative study of the United Kingdom and the Netherlands examines whether better access to transport would improve employment probabilities for individuals, with a particular focus on young people. By combining transport access measures and employment microdata from the UKDS and Statistics Netherlands, the research was intended to further establish which population groups and areas would benefit the most from improved job access. The research was regionally funded - by the UK’s West Yorkshire Combined Authority and the Dutch City of Rotterdam - and therefore focuses on regional as well as national levels in both countries.
In recent decades, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands, witnessed a strong decentralisation of employment to peripheral business parks near motorways, as have most western countries, while traditional public transport services increasingly were concentrated within the main corridors of urban centres. As a result, job access for vehicle owners is typically much greater than for public transport users. In five successive papers, Bastiaanssen’s study finds scientific proof for the assumed relationship between better transport job accessibility and increased employment probabilities.
Bastiaanssen’s study examines whether higher levels of access to public and private commuter transport would improve individual employment probabilities in the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. He finds that particularly job seekers without access to private transportation would benefit from higher levels of job accessibility. This mainly affects young people, low-income and lower educated groups and those residing in urban areas that are underserved by public transport, such as peripheral and deprived neighbourhoods. These benefits were also stronger for people living in cities urban areas rather than rural areas, since the unemployed are mostly concentrated in urban areas.
Importance for policymakers
The findings in this thesis are important for policymakers in that they imply that job seekers may benefit from more targeted public policies to improve access to commuter transport and, thus, also their social mobility. Achieving this would require more integration of transport policies, land-use planning and social welfare policies that explicitly consider the accessibility needs of various groups of job seekers - in particular, those without access to private transportation, such as low-income groups and young people, and people living in areas that are underserved by public transport.
An increase in job accessibility could be achieved by improving transport routes, speeds and frequency, as well as by bringing employment opportunities closer to the unemployed. This also relates to fare prices in public transportation and vehicle-related costs that can be a significant barrier for job uptake, in particular among lower income groups. ‘Wheels to Work’ schemes in the United Kingdom have been demonstrated to successfully help job seekers gain employment.