Skip to content U.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway AdministrationU.S. Department of Transportation/Federal Highway Administration

Office of Planning, Environment, & Realty (HEP)
PlanningEnvironmentReal Estate

HEP Events Guidance Publications Awards Contacts

Case Studies

Regional Job Access and Reverse Commute Planning: North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority and New Jersey Workfirst Program

map of New Jersey

NORTH JERSEY TRANSPORTATION PLANNING AUTHORITY AND NEW JERSEY WORKFIRST PROGRAM

PDF Version for Printing

Introduction

The Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act of 1996 (PRWORA) replaced the former Federal welfare program with the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) program. A hallmark of the legislation was imposed time limits and mandatory work requirements for welfare recipients. Commonly known as the welfare-to-work (WtW) program, TANF's goals include reducing welfare rolls and providing job skills for welfare recipients and opportunities for steady employment.

Secretary of Transportation Rodney Slater has stated, "Transportation is the to in welfare-to-work." The comment recognizes that welfare recipients often face unique challenges in searching for jobs and maintaining employment. In addition to disadvantages in education, work skills, and training, welfare recipients often lack access to vehicles or housing served by public transportation with which to reach most entry-level and service sector jobs. Estimates are that approximately 75 percent of welfare recipients nationwide live in central cities or rural areas, whereas two-thirds of the suitable job opportunities are in the suburbs. For welfare-recipients to successfully meet the challenge of balancing work and family responsibilities, necessary support services, such as child care and shopping, must be readily accessible. Traditional public transportation services typically do not address these unique commuter demands. Inadequate transportation services are a barrier to the success of the welfare-to-work program.

The Transportation Equity Act (TEA-21) of 1998 included the Job Access and Reverse Commute Program >to address the mobility challenges facing welfare recipients and low-income persons. This grant program requires States to develop solutions collaboratively with Metropolitan Planning Organizations (MPOs), local and regional transportation agencies, and social service providers. Partnerships are essential to the success of WtW because reliable access to jobs involves more than merely providing transportation to and from work. In implementing this program, the Federal government acknowledged MPOs as good administrators that already coordinate a wide variety of regional planning agencies.

WorkFirst New Jersey

The State of New Jersey implemented its welfare program, WorkFirst New Jersey (WFNJ), following passage of PRWORA. Like the Federal initiative, WFNJ emphasizes moving aid recipients off welfare rolls and into steady employment.

In 1997, the New Jersey Department of Human Services (NJDHS) studied the State's bus transportation network for its ability to help opportunities for cooperative efforts, or linkages, among New Jersey's 13 northern counties. The plan suggested coordinating county-based or regional services and implemented a method to evaluate and prioritize future job access and reverse commute projects.

These two New Jersey initiatives combined GIS analysis and post-census data to address the fundamental question of how States and regional transportation agencies can meet the transportation-related needs of low-income families seeking to join the workforce. While the two reports have somewhat different goals and reach slightly different conclusions, they provide practical examples for transportation planners and decision makers. The reports illustrate how an easily reproducible method can identify and begin to address the service requirements of a transit-dependent population.

The Job Access and Reverse Commute Program

The Job Access and Reverse Commute Program provides grants to help States and localities develop a coordinated regional approach to new or expanded transportation services that connect welfare recipients and other low-income persons to jobs and other employment-related services. Projects funded must result from collaborative planning efforts that include States and MPOs, transportation providers, agencies administering TANF and WtW funds, human services agencies, public housing and child care organizations, employers, and other stakeholders. The program also seeks to leverage other transportation-eligible funds.

The Region

The NJTPA region encompasses the 13 northernmost counties in New Jersey (see map, page 1) and is home to most of New Jersey's largest cities, including Jersey City, Newark, New Brunswick, Elizabeth, and Paterson. An extensive highway network and large public bus and commuter rail systems serve the area. For several decades, however, employment growth in the traditional urban centers -- including the older "closer-in" suburbs -- has not kept pace with the more rapidly growing suburban corridors that possess substantial land area for greenfield developments and enjoy the regional access provided by an extensive Federal, State, and county highway network.

The 1990 U.S. Census reveals a concentration of poverty (potential WFNJ participants) in the NJTPA region urban centers -- 19.5 percent of all persons below the poverty line compared to 4.8 percent for

the rest of the NJTPA region. Similarly, the unemployment rate reported for the urban centers was well above the rest of the region.

What Happened

Welfare-to-work participants must have reliable transportation if they are to realize the economic independence envisioned in Federal and State welfare reform legislation. State agencies and MPOs face the daunting challenge of understanding and addressing those transportation-related needs. GIS is a powerful tool for identifying transit routes responsive to the housing patterns, support services, and jobs available to WtW clients. Crucial barriers to mobility can be identified with the careful use of appropriate data and GIS methods. This analytical phase benefits greatly when the process encourages interagency coordination between MPOs, State and local transportation agencies, social service agencies, and workforce programs.

The NJDHS sponsored the WorkFirst study to examine whether New Jersey's existing bus system could help a significant percent of WorkFirst participants reenter the workforce. The study combined current data -- not just census data released every decade -- with GIS applications. The methods employed are not unique, but they are reproducible and suitable for assisting in public policy decision making.

The study's hypothesis is that New Jersey's public bus network can provide an important link between WorkFirst client residences and a variety of destinations. Four different post-census data sets were collected to construct an analysis that tests this hypothesis.

These databases were mapped and overlain using GIS software. Mapping these data was not always easy and overcoming inconsistencies often required several iterations of data matching (for example, geo-coding) between maps and data sets. The report's authors illustrate methods for ensuring accuracy and data integrity -- often a complicated process. New Jersey Transit provided bus route maps to overlay the data maps. The study addressed comprehensive bus routes and fixed routes (such as local, county, and Interstate), as well as the NJ Wheels Program -- an innovative program of feeder transit connections that fill missing links to existing transit stations, park and rides, and circulator services to area stores and restaurants.

Snapshot of the Region
  • The NJTPA region encompasses the 13 northernmost counties in New Jersey.
  • The NTPA region is home to five of New Jersey's six major urban centers, and several of these centers are ringed by older suburbs exhibiting patterns of poverty.
  • 417,460 persons (7.6 percent) live below the poverty level; nearly one-third are children.
  • Higher percentage of persons live below the poverty level in urban centers than the rest of the region (19.5 versus 4.8 percent).
  • Unemployment rates in the urban centers are higher than the rest of the region (13.5 versus 5.2 percent).

Source: 1990 U.S. Bureau of the Census Data

GIS map of persons living below the poverty line

NJTPA examined the spatial patterns of poverty, in part, by preparing a GIS map of persons living below the poverty line.

WorkFirst Study Post-Census Data Sets
  • Potential WFNJ participants -- data from the AFDC/FAMIS database
  • Training centers -- data about the location of the State's 99 training centers furnished by the New Jersey Department of Human Services
  • Licensed child care and registered family day care facilities -- facility location data provided by the New Jersey Department of Human Services
  • Employers -- the New Jersey State Employer reporting database (ES-202) provided by the NJ Department of Labor

The relative proximity of welfare recipients, child care facilities, employment training centers, and employers in relation to transportation services is the key access concern. Choosing analytical tools that work for you will depend on local circumstances and resources. The tools may be as simple as sticking pushpins in a wall map or as advanced as using GIS. The analytical goal is to understand how available transportation services need to be improved or can improve accessibility.

Challenge of Job Access:
Moving Toward a Solution, U.S. DOT


The GIS software was further used to create buffers or boundaries at set distances around the bus routes. Study authors assumed that potential transit riders would be reluctant to walk more than about one-half mile (the average person can walk one-half mile in about 10 minutes). Using this assumption, preliminary spatial analysis techniques were applied to measure the percentage of client residences, training centers, child care and family day care facilities, and potential employers within walking distance of the transit routes. Table 1 presents data on distance from transit routes.

Table 1. Percent of Families Within a Half Mile of Bus Transit Routes

County

Client Residences

Training Centers

Child Care Centers

Family Day Care Centers

Potential Employers

Essex

99%

100%

97%

98%

98%

Hudson

99%

100%

100%

100%

98%

Passaic

99%

100%

93%

94%

96%

Mercer

98%

93%

83%

87%

87%

Union

97%

100%

94%

97%

96%

Camden

96%

100%

88%

92%

93%

Bergen

95%

100%

78%

83%

81%

Atlantic

91%

100%

86%

85%

93%

Salem

91%

100%

88%

94%

88%

Cape May

88%

100%

79%

71%

92%

Monmouth

88%

100%

75%

76%

78%

Middlesex

84%

75%

75%

65%

77%

Ocean

82%

100%

89%

76%

74%

Gloucester

80%

0%

85%

68%

92%

Morris

78%

100%

56%

57%

74%

Cumberland

73%

100%

72%

71%

78%

Burlington

71%

100%

60%

64%

82%

Somerset

65%

100%

39%

30%

68%

Warren

65%

0%

44%

47%

56%

Hunterdon

15%

0%

19%

12%

19%

Sussex

14%

0%

11%

11%

8%

Average

94%

92%

79%

77%

85%

The WorkFirst study concludes that the existing New Jersey bus system is generally capable of serving WorkFirst client needs. Research indicates that nearly 94 percent of welfare families statewide live within one-half mile of a transit route, and that 85 percent of potential employers are within one-half mile of transit. The relatively concentrated patterns of poverty in New Jersey, as well as State's overall population density, afford opportunities to improve transit services. The WorkFirst study provides an interesting comparison to another recent study of the Atlanta metropolitan area, a less-densely populated area where only 50 percent of welfare recipients and only 44 percent of entry-level jobs are within one-half mile of public transportation.

Although WorkFirst study findings suggest the potential for enhancing job access, the study is cautious about its analytical limitations and points to the next steps required to meet the unique needs of this ridership segment:

With its careful analysis and balanced presentation of findings, the WorkFirst study is a useful preliminary tool for identifying the transportation needs of WtW clients. Because the study is explicit about the need to implement more planning at the local level, by county-level administrators, NJ Transit, and other transit providers, the study provided a springboard for more intensive study of transit services. The New Jersey Department of Transportation (NJDOT) and the NJDHS have committed resources for county transportation coordination planning, prepared a Transit Training video, and devised a promotional incentive, Get A Job, Get A Ride, which provides any WFNJ participant -- who's working or in training -- 1 free month of New Jersey Transit public transportation.

NJTPA Regional Job Access and Reverse Commute Transportation Plan

In July 1998, the NJTPA received an FTA Job Access Planning Challenge Grant to coordinate preparation of community transportation plans throughout the northern New Jersey region. Each county had to develop a Community Transportation Plan that promoted and assisted the WFNJ program by addressing the need for job-access services.

Available and Suitable Jobs for WtW Recipients:
A Closer Look at an Estimating Method

The Atlanta Approach

Beyond the need to further improve transit schedules, frequencies, and hours of service, the WorkFirst Study cautions that there is no guarantee that a client living near transit will find a job near a transit route. The study represents the problem mainly in statistical terms -- joint probabilities -- and offers an instructive example of how to calculate the likelihood of both client and job being near transit:

In Hudson County, NJ, 99.89 percent of clients and 98.40 percent of firms are located within one-half mile of transit. Thus, there is a 98.29 percent (99.89 x 98.40) joint probability of a client and job being near transit. This calculation assumes that all firms have an equal likelihood of being selected by a client. The likelihood drops for Ocean County where 73.61 percent of jobs and 82.29 percent of clients are within one-half mile of transit -- the joint probability is only 60.57 percent. Of course, a WorkFirst client would seek to maximize the job opportunities along a transit route, and the search process would not be random. Although the latter joint probabilities represent a worst case scenario, they are nevertheless instructive.

The WorkFirst Study cautions that some types of employment may be more suitable to WtW recipients. Several other studies, including one in Atlanta, more closely focus upon methods to address this issue. Researchers in Atlanta used similar data from the Georgia Department of Labor (ES-202) to identify the locations of entry-level jobs. These researchers elected to address-match (e.g., geo-code) total jobs by census tract. The resulting file also included taxable wages, employer names, and a multiestablishment 4-digit Standard Industrial Classification (SIC) code. More than 1.3 million total jobs were allocated to census tracts. Three additional steps were taken to estimate the locations of entry-level jobs:

  1. Translate Jobs into Occupations. An occupational profile was prepared for each SIC code using the 1 percent U.S. Census Public Use Microdata Sample (PUMS) for the Atlanta Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). The value of the data set is that it contains employment -- SIC code -- and occupational data for all workers who completed the 1990 Census of Population and Housing long form. From this data set, it is possible to prepare a "bridge table" or matrix that links industries to occupations. The table enables the analyst to translate "jobs" at each business establishment into "occupations."
  2. Estimate Entry-Level Occupations. Although the Atlanta study considered alternative approaches, it ultimately relied on one developed for a study in Cleveland, OH, that reviews Specific Vocational Preparation data, General Equivalency Degree (GED) data, and level of education (achieved in the first quartile) by occupation. These data sources make it possible to rank occupations by skill content and worker education level. In Atlanta, the bottom 92 of 389 occupations were specified as entry-level occupations, which account for 22.1 percent of total employment.
  3. Adjust Occupational Employment to Entry-Level Jobs. The total numbers of workers in entry-level occupations were then extracted from the total occupations file and displayed as points on a map in order to analyze whether there was a spatial mismatch between available, suitable jobs and recipients.

Source: Excerpts from Richard K. Brail, "Assessment of Public Transportation Opportunities for WorkFirst New Jersey Participants, Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy," Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey. July, 1997, and David S. Sawicki and M. Moody, "Developing Transportation Alternatives for Welfare Recipients Moving to Work," Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 66, No. 3, Summer 2000.

The NJTPA used the grant to examine current data sources and conduct GIS analysis techniques, similar to the work described in the WorkFirst study. This information complemented the findings of the individual Community Transportation Plans. The resulting Regional Job Access & Reverse Commute Transportation Plan includes several work activities that:

NJTPA Regional Household, Employment and Client Travel Profile

Households

Employment

Client Travel

Source: Regional Job Access Reverse Commute Transportation Plan, NJTPA, October 1999

The NJTPA devoted significant time and monetary resources to identify and document the needs and patterns of welfare recipients' lives. This effort provided an important foundation for interpreting GIS data because it provided information about welfare recipients' education levels, travel and expenditure trends, and emerging suburban and urban employment spatial patterns.

Using NJDHS and U.S. Census data in GIS applications, the NJTPA developed a comprehensive profile of the NJTPA region. The spatial examination of the residential, work, and transit links data helped the NJTPA identify strategic regional linkages capable of connecting transit-dependent populations to job opportunities.

The NJTPA plan concludes with clear recommendations as to what the region's proposed programs should include and how they will be prioritized. Communicating the method of prioritization is an important element of the plan as it sets the ground-rules -- the expectations and the criteria -- for communities to develop their local plans.

NJTPA's Recommended Transportation Strategies

Table 2. TANF Recipients and Total Households
by Counties of NJTPA Region

County

TANF
Recipients

Percent of
Region

Total
Households

Percent of
Region

Relative
County Share
of TANF
Recipients

Essex

24,689

38.0%

277,667

13.3%

286.0%

Hudson

14,153

21.8%

208,574

10.0%

218.3%

Passaic

6,193

9.5%

155,450

7.4%

128.2%

Union

5,392

8.3%

179,966

8.6%

96.4%

Monmouth

3,456

5.3%

197,325

9.4%

56.3%

Middlesex

4,184

6.4%

238,974

11.4%

56.3%

Ocean

2,538

3.9%

168,312

8.1%

48.5%

Warren

403

0.6%

33,876

1.6%

38.3%

Somerset

730

1.1%

88,819

4.3%

26.4%

Bergen

2,363

3.6%

308,795

14.8%

24.6%

Sussex

186

0.3%

44,492

2.1%

13.4%

Morris

585

0.9%

148,627

7.1%

12.7%

Hunterdon

69

0.1%

38,152

1.8%

5.8%

NJTPA Region

64,941

100.0%

2,089,029

100.0%

 

The Participants

Effective Environmental Justice Practices

The WorkFirst Study demonstrates how post-census data incorporated into GIS mapping can facilitate a better understanding of the needs of an often highly transit-dependent population:

The NJTPA Regional Job Access and Reverse Commute Transportation Plan also demonstrates several effective practices important for integrating environmental justice principles into transportation planning:


We have to stop thinking like transportation organizations, labor organizations, or human resource organizations and start thinking like organizations that are here to provide services -- whether it be services for those who are in welfare-to-work, or housewives to work, or husbands to work. We need a holistic approach.

Ernest Maddox
Michigan Department of Employment Security


Major Challenge: Establishing Effective Partnerships

Three major laws passed in the last several years promote collaboration between the transportation and employment and training communities:

Workforce development professionals must ensure that people can get to training, interviews, and jobs each day. Workforce Investment Boards and TANF agencies set policies, plan activities, and negotiate contracts with other Federal, State, and local programs to enhance service delivery. Central to their success is the need to establish workable agreements with transportation providers to deliver transit support services to those who need it.


Project Chronology

February 1994
Executive Order 12898, Federal Action to Address Environmental Justice in Minority and Low-Income Populations, issued.

January 1996
Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) passed.

April 1997
WorkFirst New Jersey -- New Jersey's State welfare reform program implemented.

July 1997
Assessment of Public Transportation Opportunities for WorkFirst New Jersey Participants prepared for the Office of Policy and Planning, New Jersey Department of Human Services.

June 1998
The Transportation Equity Act for the 21st Century (TEA-21) passed, creating the Job Access and Reverse Commute Grants Program.

1998-1999
Each New Jersey county prepares a Community Transportation Plan.

October 1999
NJTPA prepares the Regional Job Access and Reverse Commute Transportation Plan to address transportation issues.

1999-2000
NJTPA begins to select and prioritize proposed transportation programs for presentation to the FTA for funding.


Challenges Ahead

No single method is sufficient to address all environmental justice issues in transportation planning; however, discovering and refining the use of appropriate data sets and analytical methods are important research elements of an ongoing process.

As this case study demonstrates, combining post-census data with GIS analysis is one method for targeting origins and probable destinations of WtW recipients. Among the challenges facing the transportation planner:

photo of NJTPA staff

NJTPA staff evaluated the Community Transportation Plans prepared by each County for inter-county regional linkages and opportunities for cooperation as part of a grant application review.

Statewide Partnerships to Address Transportation Barriers

Since 1997, New Jersey's welfare reform program, WorkFirst New Jersey (WFNJ), has served as a catalyst for increased statewide coordination of efforts to address the mobility challenges faced by many low-income individuals. At the state level, the New Jersey Departments of Human Services (NJDHS), Labor (NJDOL), and Transportation (NJDOT), NJ Transit, and the State Employment and Training Commission (SETC) have developed the Project Oversight Group (POG). The POG, comprised of representatives from NJDHS, NJDOL, NJDOT, NJ Transit, and SETC, was established to facilitate inter-departmental planning and assist counties in the development of innovative solutions to local mobility issues.

This partnership has led to several initiatives designed to address transportation barriers that limit access to employment opportunities including implementation of the WorkPass program, which provides transit passes to welfare recipients who are involved in work activities, creation of the Transportation Innovation Fund, which provides funding for new and expanded transportation services, and completion of a statewide community transportation coordination planning effort.

Lessons Learned

Making employment accessible to WFNJ participants is an ongoing challenge, but the plans and reports described above can help relevant agencies achieve that goal. The process of developing these plans has related some important lessons about environmental justice, data analysis, and planning:

Benefits from Environmental Justice in Decision Making

For the Agencies:

For Low-Income Populations:

References

Richard K. Brail, Assessment of Public Transportation Opportunities for WorkFirst New Jersey Participants. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy, Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey, July 1997.

Laura Leete and Neil Bania, Assessment of the Geographic Distribution and Skill Requirements of Jobs in the Cleveland-Akron Metropolitan Area (Report No. WP-95-04), Cleveland: Case Western University, Center for Urban Poverty and Social Change, 1995.

Employment Transportation Toolkit, Community Transportation Association of America, cited May 2000. www.ctaa.org/ntrc/atj/toolkit/toolkit_full.pdf

Regional Job Access & Reverse Commute Transportation Plan, New Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, Inc., October 1999.

Regional Transportation Plan for Northern New Jersey, Appendix I, North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority, Fall 1995.

David S. Sawicki and M. Moody, "Developing Transportation Alternatives for Welfare Recipients Moving to Work," Journal of the American Planning Association, Vol. 66., No. 3, Summer 2000.

The Challenge of Job Access, Moving Toward a Solution, U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration and Federal Transit Administration, Washington, DC, cited May 2000. http://www.fhwa.dot.gov/reports/challeng.htm

National Personal Transportation Survey, 1990. http://www-cta.ornl.gov/npts/1990/index.html

Job Access and Reverse Commute Web Sites and Related Links

Community Transportation Association

National Transit Resource Center: www.ctaa.org/ntrc/atj
Publications: www.ctaa.org/ntrc/ctap/pubs

Federal Transit Agency welfare-to-work
http://www.fta.dot.gov/3623.html

New Jersey Department of Transportation WorkFirst
www.state.nj.us/transportation/workforce

North Jersey Transportation Planning Authority
http://njtapa.njit.edu

Poverty Center at Case Western University Job Access Project
http://povertycenter.cwru.edu/jobaccess/cupsc.htm

Contacts

Jeremy Colangelo-Bryan
Director, Workforce and Community Transportation
NJDOT
One Penn Plaza East, 4th Floor
Newark, NJ 07105
(973) 491-7743
cedojcb@njtransit.state.nj.us

Diane Schonyers
Supervising Research Analyst
Office of Policy and Planning
NJ Dept of Human Services
PO Box 700
Trenton, NJ 08625
(609) 292-1094
dschonyer1@dhs.state.nj.us

David Harris
Manager of Regional Planning
NJTPA
One Newark Center, 17th Floor
Newark, NJ 07102
(973) 639-8400

For more contact information on the NJTPA Regional Job Access & Reverse Commute Transportation Plan, see: http://njtpa.njit.edu.

Updated: 11/02/2011
HEP Home Planning Environment Real Estate
Federal Highway Administration | 1200 New Jersey Avenue, SE | Washington, DC 20590 | 202-366-4000