Study: 700,000 have no access to cars or public transit

Atlanta was followed by two metro areas in Texas: Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston. Those cities had coverage rates of 71.2 and 73.4 percent respectively, with 33,326 and 32,630 people having no car or nearby public transit.

Brookings Senior Research Analyst Adie Tomer, who authored the transit report, said the numbers were startling.

"Seven hundred thousand households is larger than the population of Columbus, Ohio or San Antonio, Texas,” Tomer said in a statement.  “These people are terribly constrained in earning a living, getting to the store, or taking their kids to daycare. If this many people were facing a public health scare, this country would be in crisis mode.  We need to approach this problem with similar urgency."

The problem takes on even more importance with the struggling U.S. economy, Tomer said.

"If you’re going to keep afloat during the recession, you have to be able to get to work,” she said “We knew there were pockets of households who are economically hampered by the fact that they own no car and have no access to transit, but we didn’t fully understand the true scope of the problem until now.”

The cities that scored best for coverage rates for public transportation were Los Angeles, New York City and San Francisco. Those cities had 99.1, 98.7 and 98.1 percent coverage rates respectively.

Read the full Brookings report here.