New research: The effect of public transportation on employment in Arab society

  • In 2010–15, there was a broad improvement in public transportation in many Arab localities.
  • New research has found that the improvement in public transportation has had, at least to date, a minimal impact on employment in Arab society, and particularly it was not found that it led to women joining the labor force.
  • The service improvement assisted some working women to continue to work, and helped to increase the number of employed people among older men.

Employment rates in Arab society, primarily among women, are lower than in the general population in Israel. A widely held claim is that one of the barriers to employment is the lack of transportation access to places of work, due to the low level of public transportation service in Arab localities.

Research conducted by Arnon Barak of the Bank of Israel Research Department checked the above claim by examining a reform in public transportation that affected numerous Arab localities in 2010–15, at various intensities and at various times. The research uses, for the first time in Israel, administrative data regarding bus routes in Arab localities and shows that during this period there was an extensive improvement in public transportation in many Arab localities, the average number of trips in a locality doubled and the number of trips per capita increased by approximately 80 percent. For the sake of comparison, in the same period the number of  trips per capita in localities that are not Arab increased by only 30 percent. The increase in supply of trips in Arab localities was accompanied by a marked increase in the number of trips of all riders on those same routes.

In order to identify the impact of the reform on employment, the research distinguishes between people who had access to a private vehicle[1] and those who did not, based on the assumption that the employment decisions of the latter are more sensitive to the level of service.

The results of the study indicate that public transportation has a weak impact on employment rates among the Arab population (see Tables 1 and 2). In particular, it was not found that the reform led to nonworking Arab women’s entry into employment. However, the reform assisted some working women not to cease working—educated women aged 30–50 without access to private vehicle, a group that makes up approximately 8 percent of overall Arab women of working age (20–64). A simulation based on the results indicates that when adding 10 bus trips per day in the same locality—similar to the average increase in recent years—the probability that such a woman will remain employed increases by approximately 0.5 percent. Likewise, it was found that the improvement in service assisted older men (40–64) without access to a private vehicle to integrate into employment, and that in such case the impact is even slightly higher (0.7 percent). This group makes up approximately 8 percent of total Arab men of working age (20–64).

The research’s findings support the claim that in order to increase employment rates in Arab society, other barriers[2] need to be removed, and public transportation should be, at most, a complementary factor in that regard: its improvement assists women and men who overcame structural and cultural barriers and are on the verge of employment.  

Despite the limited impact on employment, it is fair to assume that the reform improved the quality of life in Arab society from other perspectives: the number of rides increased markedly, indicating that the population used public transportation for various needs and benefited from its expansion, as it reduced the costs of the trip in terms of time and money.

The research was carried out with the limited available data and refers to service additions in 2010–15. As it is not plausible that the entire impact of the additions are immediately reflected in employment, it may be that part of the ramifications of the improved service, which expanded markedly in the years that have passed since then, was not reflected in the current research.


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[1] Holds a driver’s license and has the use of a car. For married women, we defined this as having the use of a car only if the two spouses together had the use of at least two cars.

[2] These barriers include lack of suitable training or schooling, low fluency in Hebrew, not enough childcare frameworks, and limited supply of places of work.