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Gas prices have been hovering just above and below the $2 mark for a few weeks now, making travel by car for work and play pretty darn affordable, but guess what?

The number of young people who are choosing to forego a driver’s license continues to grow, which means the number of young workers who choose to live, work and play in communities where they can walk, bike and use public transportation instead of a car is also increasing.

A study from the University of Michigan cited by The Atlantic and other publications lists steadily declining numbers of young people who have driver’s licenses; 16.4 percent fewer 20- to 24-year-olds had a license in 2014 compared to 1983. One of the top reasons given by 18- to 39-year-olds for not having a license was the expense of owning and maintaining a car.

More, a story in Governing Magazine from last August focuses on the number of businesses interested in locations where talented millennials live, and guess what? They don’t live in the ‘burbs or where a car is a necessity.

“Much of that has to do with the tastes of the millennial generation, adults 34 and younger, many of whom continue to express a preference for walkable neighborhoods with bike lanes, public transit and a mix of recreational amenities,” the story reads.

Millennials matter

Why that matters to the greater-Racine area is because we need those young workers; tech-savvy millennials who can staff state-of-the-art manufacturing companies, fill desks at existing businesses big and small and start their own firms that eventually grow and need employees. We need those young people to settle here, start their families and fill our schools with the future leaders of our community.

It’s also worth noting that millennials are the largest segment of the modern workforce. Keeping the talent we already have and bringing in new professionals to staff new development businesses and companies is vital for the health and continued growth of our community … which means we need to invest in the infrastructure that matters to this demographic.

Recent discussions against continued funding of the Belle Urban System (BUS) among village board members in both Mount Pleasant and Sturtevant have centered around the low number of village residents who ride the bus, ignoring the simple fact that most BUS routes don’t go through the neighborhoods where people live. Instead, buses travel busy arteries like Washington Avenue and riders make connections primarily at the Corrine Reid Transit Center or at points like Walmart.

Board members from both villages who object to funding the BUS are being short-sighted when they should be playing the long game like they so often point out when announcing new commercial development that adds jobs to the area.

Of course new and expanding companies that add jobs are exactly what we need, but we also need to have a robust transportation system that can move workers easily between areas of the community to further reduce our unemployment rate and put more people to work.

Al Stanek is the former transportation manager for the City of Racine, and he told us a few years ago that as many as one in seven adults in Racine doesn’t have access to a car. Add the lack of comprehensive transit options to the mix, and is it any wonder why some folks can’t pursue the opportunities coming to the region?

Public transit = jobs

Another reason the BUS could matter: even more jobs. That’s right; investing in mass transit puts more people to work. Next City in 2014 featured an infographic that explains how investing in public transportation boosts the overall health of a community. The story is predicated on the use of state and federal dollars already earmarked for certain transportation projects and manufacturing.

Not only does an investment in mass transit create jobs in manufacturing where the vehicles and equipment will be created, it also leads to the growth of ancillary businesses like parts suppliers and the services needed to support the workers finding jobs in those facilities.

We could also see increased job training programs through area organizations and schools that put people to work, bringing down unemployment rates and raising tax revenues that pay for schools and municipal services.

Chicken or the egg

We recognize that expanding public transportation in Eastern Racine County is a gamble that resembles the classic chicken-or-the-egg question; do you add routes and increase costs and wait for the riders or do you wait and hope businesses will choose to set up shop here because we can sell them on the idea of more comprehensive public transportation to come?

But, we also call on and call out city, village and county leaders who, on the one hand, welcome with great fanfare the new businesses that put people to work, talk about how people need to get to work but then deny or want to reduce even further the transportation options available to them if individuals don’t have access to or want the responsibility of a car.

You can’t have it both ways.

The greater Racine area is an amazing community filled with talented and generous citizens, but we have a lot of room for improvement and growth, and that means leading with vision.

If your commitment is real to making the greater Racine area an even more vibrant, growing and attractive region to both business development and the workers we’re going to need to fill those jobs, settle here and eventually raise their families, then it’s time to invest in public transportation instead of limiting it.