People are happier when they live near public transit

A study makes the connection between life satisfaction and transportation

Published September 12, 2013 6:22PM (EDT)

     (Amy Johansson/Shutterstock)
(Amy Johansson/Shutterstock)

Arrive at your subway station just as crowds of people exit -- a sure sign that you've missed your train -- wait around in the crippling heat, then squeeze in a crowded car, praying there'll be no delays, and you'll be forgiven for thinking that public transportation is a particularly nasty form of torture meant to punish commuters.

Not so, says University of Minnesota transport policy scholar Jason Cao. In a small study, Cao found that proximity to good public transit is significantly associated with increased well-being: People who live near rail lines are happier with their lives.

Cao's research was based on questionnaires sent out to residents along the Hiawatha light rail line in Minneapolis, which he compared to responses from people in other areas of the city. All participants were asked about the quality of their public transportation system: What was the service like? How accessible was it? Then, they were asked to evaluate the overall quality of their lives. The Atlantic Cities interprets the results:

Cao believes this high quality of life emerged primarily through the quality of the light rail. When he controlled for transit service and regional access, for instance, the advantage in life satisfaction disappeared — a clear sign, to him, that service and access were responsible for this satisfaction in the first place. Contentment with travel was leading to contentment with life.

The reasons for this finding may vary. Perhaps residents enjoyed the train itself, or perhaps they enjoyed the access to great social and cultural destinations it afforded them. The distinction doesn't much matter. What's clear is that much of the satisfaction derived from living in the Hiawatha corridor comes from the high level of mobility that good light rail provides.

Even without knowing much about the rail line, it's easy to seem why the rail line's ridership characterize their lives as "excellent" and "ideal." They have cheap and easy access to sports stadiums, an entertainment district, an international airport, and the Mall of America. All that's enough, it seems, to keep people smiling.

By Lindsay Abrams

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Happiness Minnesota Public Transportation Trains