More than 86% of American workers commute to work using personal automobiles, says a new report by the Census Bureau. The American Community Survey, a subdivision of the Census, used the National Household Transit Survey to find that of those drivers, more than 87% of them were alone. This means that a full 3/4 of all American commuters drive alone to work every day. With average commute times staying above 25 minutes, this means that American workers are not only commuting in solitude, but also exacting a huge carbon toll on our planet.
Even more disturbing, of the 14% of Americans that do not drive to work, only a small handful take carbon neutral alternatives, like biking or walking. Just 3.5% of all Americans take either of those methods to commute, even less than the growing numbers of people who work from home.
All of this information is extremely disconcerting to proponents of price-related mechanisms to reduce carbon emissions. Despite the fact that the price of gas has spiked repeatedly in the past ten years, few Americans have changed their driving habits, with most still paying much more for the luxury of sitting alone in traffic. It appears that consumers are less responsive to price, at least when it comes to how they get to work. Given how dangerous cars are, especially near children, the amount of vehicles on the road should be disturbing to everyone — not just those who are passionate about the environment.
The survey data therefore indicates that more drastic policy measures are needed to reduce American reliance on automobiles in getting to work. High gas prices are not enough to get people out of their cars and even into carpools or buses, let alone bikes. Cities across the country are beginning to push for more bike lanes, which would make it safer and easier to commute in some of the places that have the worst traffic delays. This is a good start, but it’s going to take a lot more to break the entrenched habits of over a hundred million workers. On the upshot, though, at least the numbers for greener commutes can only go up.
Photo credit: Elvert Barnes's Flickr stream.