Research Projects



UWM Professor Shares Commuting Research at METRANS Seminar

Sunday, April 16, 2017

by Shinhee Lee, USC MPL 2018


It is not surprising to know that inequality lies in commuting patterns between different income groups. However, how does workplace location affect this pattern? As part of METRANS’ spring research seminar series, Associate Professor Lingqian Hu, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, came to the USC Main Campus on March 29th, 2017 to present her research (co-authored by Professor Robert Schneider) titled “Different ways to get to the same workplace: How does workplace location relate to commuting by different income groups.”     

Professor Hu introduced her motives to connect the urban structure to commuting patterns. She highlighted that current literature does not focus on the uneven distribution of the workplace and its impact when discussing the commuting issues. To address this issue, she raised three research questions: 1) What is the geographic distribution pattern of different income groups’ workplaces? 2) Do the differences in commute distance and commute mode across income groups vary by workplace? and 3) To what extent is income associated with the commute mode share of employees who work in similar workplace locations?

With data from the Chicago region, Professor Hu identified the characteristics of a workplace in two main categories - whether the workplaces are centralized or decentralized, and whether the workplaces are clustered in sub-centers or dispersed. She found that there is an unequal distribution of workplaces between different income groups. Also, commuting differences are directly associated with the different income groups in each type of workplaces. For example, low-income workers tend to have shorter commute distance and higher transit mode share. However, if the workplace is controlled, there is no direct association between income and commuting mode.


(Photo by Yang Deng)

Professor Hu shared two policy implications for transportation and housing. First, she emphasized the need to invest in transit service in dispersed areas where income is more associated with commute mode. “We keep putting money and support transit services only in the CBD [Central Business District] area. It may be efficient, but we have to be critical about its equity impact,” she notes. Second, she stressed that planners should also consider employment opportunities for low-income groups when choosing affordable housing locations.

“It was really interesting to see how people locate themselves where they can balance their workplace and commute mode,” remarked Prithvi Deore, MPL ’18.

Professor Hu concluded her presentation by suggesting further research questions. “There are more questions to answer, such as to what extent we should consider housing location, workplace location, and transit services so that we can better serve low-income people.”


Lingqian Hu is an Associate Professor in the Department of Urban Planning at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Her areas of research interest include transportation planning and policy, land use, and urban economics. She has published in various urban planning and transportation research journals, such as the journal of American Planning Association, Urban Studies, and Transportation. Hu holds a Ph.D. degree in Policy, Planning and Development and a Master of Planning degree from the University of Southern California.


Shinhee Lee is a Master of Planning student in Price School of Public Policy at the University of Southern California. She is interested in economic development through transportation policy and public transit. She can be reached at [email protected].