Does better job accessibility help people gain employment? The role of public transport in Great Britain

Does better job accessibility help people gain employment? The role of public transport in Great Britain

This research used data made available via the Office for National Statistics (ONS) Secure Research Service, which is being expanded and improved with ADR UK funding.

Author: Dr Jeroen Bastiaanssen, Institute for Transport Studies, University of Leeds

Date: May 2021

Research summary

This study uses micro-level analysis to establish whether improving access to employment opportunities by public transport helps people gain employment and increase social mobility. At a national level, the outcomes identify which geographical areas and population groups would benefit the most from greater job accessibility. This work is of particular use for public policy, as it provides targeted recommendations for public transport operations and subsidies. The findings of this project were circulated to local authorities and will be considered when reviewing bus services and development proposals.

This study’s outcomes find that improving access to public transport correlates with a greater probability of individual employment. This is particularly true in metropolitan areas, smaller cities and towns, where car ownership rates are lower, and in low-income areas. The outcomes also show that young people and groups with lower levels of education benefit more from improved access to public transport.

Data used

This project accessed several datasets from the ONS through the Secure Research Service (SRS):

  • Quarterly Labour Force Survey: The Labour Force Survey provides a good quality point in time and change estimates for various labour market outputs and related topics. The labour market covers all aspects of people’s work, including the education and training needed to equip them for work, the jobs themselves, job-searching for those out of work and income from work and benefits. Output from the Labour Force Survey is quarterly, starting from 1992. Each quarter’s sample is made up of five waves. The sample is made up of approximately 40,000 responding UK households and 100,000 individuals per quarter.
  • Business Structure Database: The Business Structure Database provides a version of the Inter Departmental Business Register (IDBR) and ONS business survey data for research use, taking full account of changes in ownership and restructuring of businesses.

It also used the Department for Transport National Travel Survey.


Methods used

This study first calculated a bespoke location-based public transport job accessibility measure that could be consistently applied nationwide and at Lower Layer Super Output Area (LSOA)-level, by combining employment microdata from the Business Structure Database with public transport travel time datasets. The decreasing attractiveness of jobs at an increasing distance was accounted for through a travel time impedance function, estimated on observed public transport commuter times from the National Travel Survey. The second stage of this study combined the public transport job accessibility measure with a cross-sectional employment probability model based on the 2016 UK Labour Force Survey.

Individual-level employment microdata allowed data subjects to be allocated a unique measure of their public transport accessibility to employment opportunities, whilst controlling for personal and local characteristics that may contribute to employment differentials. As high levels of job accessibility are likely to increase the probability of employment, but employment may also facilitate residency in neighbourhoods with good job accessibility, an instrumental variables approach was used to estimate and control for these relationships.

The study then examined the impact of public transport job accessibility on individual employment probabilities for the population at large, and for different urban and rural areas and population groups. These findings add to the empirical evidence base of the link between public transport job accessibility and employment outcomes, which help to inform more targeted transport strategies.

Research findings

The empirical findings imply that providing better public transport job accessibility increases individual employment probabilities in Great Britain, but only in certain contexts. Individuals residing in urban areas with low car ownership rates benefit more from higher levels of public transport. Since the study could not control for individual car ownership due to an absence in the data, this relationship was not straightforward, particularly for London. In rural areas, higher employment and vehicle ownership rates make individuals less sensitive to public transport accessibility, while average public transport job accessibility levels were too low to yield differential employment effects.

Public transport job accessibility levels are far lower in low-income neighbourhoods, where an improvement would increase employment probabilities. Young people and individuals with lower levels of education would also benefit from better public transport accessibility. For other age groups and those with higher education levels, other factors such as lack of work experience or skills might be more important.

This study finds that job seekers would benefit from tailored public transport services aligned with their demographic profiles and residential location. This also relates to the costs of public transport, which can be a significant barrier to job uptake, particularly among lower-income groups and young people.

Research impact

These results can help the West Yorkshire Combined Authority (WYCA) ensure new employment developments are accessible by public transport and new affordable housing developments are well connected to employment opportunities.

The WYCA will also consider these findings in its review of bus services, and in the development of proposals around Mobility as a Service, which integrates different forms of transport into a single service.

Results of this study have been published in the journal Urban Studies.

Research outputs

Publications and reports

Presentations and awards

About the ONS Secure Research Service

The ONS Secure Reseach Service (SRS) is an accredited trusted research environment, using the Five Safes Framework to provide secure access to de-identified, unpublished data. If you would like to discuss writing a future case study with us, please get in touch:

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