The effect of public transit on employment in the Arab sector

05/03/2019 |  Barak Arnon
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Social and Welfare Policy
The Arab population is characterized by low employment rates, particularly among women, due to cultural characteristics and structural barriers.  A common argument is that one of these barriers is the lack of transit access to places of employment, due to the low level of public transit service in the Arab localities.
This study examines that argument by looking at the reform in public transit that affected many Arab localities between 2010 and 2015 to varying degrees and at various times.  In order to identify the reform’s effect on employment, we use, for the first time in Israel, administrative data regarding trips on bus lines in the Arab localities, and distinguish between people who benefited from access to a private vehicle and those who did not, assuming that the employment decisions of the latter are more sensitive to the level of service
The results of the study show that public transit has a weak effect on employment rates among the Arab population.  In particular, we did not find that the reform led women to join the labor force.  However, it did help some working women continue to work—educated women aged 30–50 with no access to a private vehicle, a group that comprises about 8 percent of all working-age Arab women (20-64).  If 10 bus trips per day are added to the locality—similar to the average increase in recent years—the chance that such a woman will remain employed increases by about 0.5 percent.  We also found that the improvement in service helps older men (aged 40–64) with no access to a private vehicle to integrate into the labor market, and that in this case, the effect is even slightly greater—about 0.7 percent.  This group comprises about 8 percent of all Arab working-age men (20–64).
The findings of the study support the argument that in order to increase employment rates among the Arab population, other barriers must be removed, and public transit is, at the very most, a complementary factor in this regard.  Improving public transit helps women and men who have overcome structural and cultural barriers and are on the verge of employment.  Beyond that, it is reasonable to assume that the reform improved the quality of life in the Arab community in other ways.  The number of passengers increased significantly, which shows that the population used public transit for various needs and benefited from its expansion, since it reduces the cost of travel in terms of time and money.
The study was conducted with limited available data, and relates only to the additional service between 2010 and 2015.  Since it is not likely that the additional service is immediately fully reflected in employment, some of the ramifications of the improved service, which has expanded significantly in the years since then, may not be reflected in this study.​