Suburbs & Car Culture Rules

That is the clear results of the latest surveys, and again, calls into question the vast sums spent on transit which few use, while roads and freeways, which almost everyone uses, receive all too little funding, reported on by New Geography.

An excerpt.

The newly released American Community Survey data for 2013 indicates little change in commuting patterns since 2010, a result that is to be expected in a period as short as three years. Among the 52 major metropolitan areas (over 1 million population), driving alone increased to 73.6% of commuting (including all travel modes and working at home). The one mode that experienced the largest drop was carpools, where the share of commuting dropped from 9.6% in 2010 to 9.0% in 2013. Doubtless most of the carpool losses represented gains in driving alone and transit. Transit grew, increasing from a market share of 7.9% in 2010 to 8.1% in 2013 in major metropolitan areas; similarly working at home increased from 4.4% to 4.6%, an increase similar to that of transit (Figure 1). Bicycles increased from 0.6% to 0.7%, while walking remained constant at 2.8%.

Transit: Historical Context

Transit has always received considerable media attention in commuting analyses. Part of this is because of the comparative labor efficiency (not necessarily cost efficiency) of transit in high-volume corridors leading to the nation’s largest downtown areas. Part of the attention is also due to the “positive spin” that has accompanied transit ridership press releases. An American Public Transportation Association press release earlier in the year, which claimed record ridership, have evoked a surprisingly strong response from some quarters: For example, academics David King, Michael Manville and Michael Smart wrote in the Washington Post: “We are strong supporters of public transportation, but misguided optimism about transit’s resurgence helps neither transit users nor the larger traveling public.” They concluded that transit trips per capita had actually declined in the past 5 years.

Nonetheless, transit remains well below its historic norms. The first commute data was in the 1960 census and indicated a 12.6% national market share for transit for the entire U.S. population. By 1990, transit’s national market share had dropped to 5.1%. After dropping to 4.6% in 2000, transit recovered to 5.2% in 2012. But clearly the historical decline of transit’s market share has at least been halted (Figure 2)….

At a broader level, the new data shows the continuing trend toward individual mode commuting, as opposed to shared modes. Between 2010 and 2013, personal modes (driving alone, bicycles, walking and working at home) increased from 82.3% to 82.7% of all commuting. Shared modes (carpools and transit) declined from 17.7% of commuting to 17.3%. These data exclude the “other modes” category (1.2% of commuting) because it includes both personal and shared commuting. None of this should be surprising, since one of the best ways to improve productivity, both personal and in the economy, is to minimize travel time for necessary activities throughout the metropolitan area (labor market).

Retrieved September 27, 2014 from

About David H Lukenbill

I am a native of Sacramento, as are my wife and daughter. I am a consultant to nonprofit organizations, and have a Bachelor of Science degree in Organizational Behavior and a Master of Public Administration degree, both from the University of San Francisco. We live along the American River with two cats and all the wild critters we can feed. I am the founding president of the American River Parkway Preservation Society and currently serve as the CFO and Senior Policy Director. I also volunteer as the President of The Lampstand Foundation, a nonprofit organization I founded in 2003.
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