Transit’s Share of Work Trips Still Declining

Cost Commentary: The greatest use of public transit in the US is for work commuting and transit’s share of the work commute has been declining since just after World War II. The first census with work commute data was 1960 when the transit share was more than 12%. As the article below indicates, the census has shown it declining ever since and is now below 4% based on recent creditable surveys. Today, excluding NY City, more people work at home than commute to work by public transit which has a a small but much greater impact in reducing roadway congestion.

This decline in the use of public transit is reflected in the fact that Austin, other major cities is Texas and many cities throughout the nation reflect transit ridership which is less than it was a dozen years ago. See: Austin’s Light Rail Plan: The Bottom Line . Transit’s share of the work trip in Austin is under 4% but is larger than Dallas and Houston where billions are being spent on light rail transt. In all major Texas cities, transit’s share of total regional passenger miles traveled is less than 1%. In Seattle and Denver, total transit share is less than 2.5% and 1.5%, respectively.

Meanwhile, the costs of public transit have increased much faster than inflation and the nation has spent hundreds of billions of tax dollars, increasing transit rider subsidies, to promote and increase transit ridership. In many cities, transit is consuming 50% or more of total transportation funds to serve a miniscule and declining percentge of the travel. These ineffective, wasteful expenditures have drained funds from transportation programs which could serve the majority of citizens in improving their mobility and quality of life.

Federal Survey: Fewer Transit Commuters
by Wendell Cox, published in, 06/03/2011

Results from the US Department of Transportation’s 2009 National
Household Travel Survey indicate that transit’s work trip market share
in the United States was only 3.7 percent in 2009. This is a full one
quarter less than the 5.0 percent reported by the Bureau of the Census
American Community Survey for 2009. Further, the NHTS data does not
include people who work at home. If the work at home share of employment
from the American Community Survey is assumed, the transit work trip
market share would be 3.5 percent.

Much of the difference is due the differing questions asked in the two
surveys. The American Community Survey asks how people “usually” got to
work last week, while the National Household Travel Survey (NTHS) data
is based upon actual diaries of travel kept by respondents. The NHTS
reports that among people who respond that transit is their “usual mode”
of travel to work, transit is used only 68 percent of the time. In
contrast, the daily trip diaries report that commuters who drive alone
are a larger share of the market than those who indicate driving alone
as their usual mode of travel. People who report their usual mode as
“car pool” actually use a car pool to get to work only 55 percent of the
time, an even lower rate relative to “usual” mode than transit.

The daily trip diaries from the NHTS also a large difference in travel
times between automobile commuters (including car pools) and transit.
The average automobile commute time was 22.9 minutes, while the average
transit commute time was more than double, at 53.0 minutes.

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