Increasingly, cities and towns are creating or expanding mass transportation to boost economic activity, provide convenient alternatives to costly highway systems, and dramatically reduce greenhouse emissions. In the past, homeowners feared that signs announcing construction of transit systems signaled lower property values, while serving as a virtual invitation to criminals. But studies show that properties near, but not directly adjacent to, mass transit actually increase in value, and crime rates aren’t influenced by transit options.
Riding the rail to increased property values
How much value does a close-by public transportation option add to a house? After looking at 41 studies of 15 rail systems across the county, researchers at California State-Fullerton concluded “…light rail transit has enhanced residential property values 2% to 18% in Portland, Sacramento, San Diego, and Santa Clara, with larger changes in cities with commuter rail systems.”
In San Diego, properties near commuter rail stops enjoyed consistent price premiums of 17% compared to properties further from public transit options, according to a study by the Urban Land Institute.
Light rail service in Dallas had an even bigger influence. Properties near stations increased an average of 39% more than comparable properties not on the rail lines, according to a study by the University of North Texas Center for Economic Development and Research.
Nearby transit can also help preserve home values during real estate downturns, according to a study of home sales activity in Chicago by RE/MAX Northern Illinois. During the first six months of 2009, while overall suburban Chicago home prices fell 19%, 32 Chicago suburbs served by Metra commuter trains saw the average price of a home decline by 15.2%.
However, not as many homes sold during the same time period in the Metra towns, perhaps an indication that home prices held steadier because owners refused lower purchase offers. On average, home sales were down 19.2% in the Metra towns, compared with a 15.6% drop in the suburbs as a whole.
There’s also a difference between being close to public transportation and being right on top of it. A house that’s so close to a rail line that the homeowners hear and feel train noise and vibration may be difficult to sell—or sell for less than a similar property that’s within walking distance, but not right next to, public transportation.
“[N]ot all residences benefit equally,” the study found. “Properties located too near a station may suffer nuisance effects, and it appears that in California the largest premiums accrue to owners of multifamily residential properties.”
Homes located along the rail line, but far from a station, will also be negatively affected. They’ll suffer noise and vibration without gaining the benefit that homes within walking distance of a station will gain.
Will it bring crime?
Another stereotype about public transportation is that it brings criminals into the neighborhood. Research shows, however, that the existing socio-demographic makeup of the neighborhood is what drives crime, not its proximity to public transportation.
As the Department of Urban Planning at the University of California, Los Angeles, School of Public Policy and Social Research found when it studied the issue, transit stations and surrounding neighborhoods in L.A. “are no more unsafe than other city streets. In fact, if we consider only serious crime, rail stations are safer than many city streets because of the higher rate of police deployment.”
The study did find that the type of crime committed was influenced by the environment. Pick-pockets work in crowds, while car theives work park-and-ride lots.
What you can do
Use it or lose it. If you’d like to show your support for public transportation, start by using it whenever possible. Systems with high ridership numbers are better able to expand routes, upgrade services and technology, and qualify for government funding.
Spend less on gas. By riding public transit, not only will you reduce the size of your carbon footprint, you’ll save money. Transit riders spend about $1,500 less on gasoline per year than commuters who drive to work, and transit availability and use can annually save $8,400 in a household budget, according to PublicTransportation.org.
Contact government officials. Let local and federal officials know you support public transportation in your community. Voter support helps build political momentum for mass transit funding.
Get involved. There are any number of ways to actively support public transit. Need something small and easy? Wear a button supporting public transit. If you’re really dedicated, volunteer for your community’s transportation advisory board.