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Few Americans Use Public Transport, Drive Alone Instead

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  • September 26, 2011
  • 9:00 pm
Few Americans Use Public Transport, Drive Alone Instead

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.

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Photo credit: Elvert Barnes's Flickr stream.

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134 comments

+ add your own
4:27PM PST on Dec 3, 2012

I wish our city had dependable public transportation that worked and was there! It's hard even finding a cab in the area! (And, if you call for one it's often over an hours wait!)

4:13PM PST on Dec 3, 2012

city spent money putting in so many bike lanes, cutting down pedestrian lanes.
but don't see many cyclists using their lanes...
meanjwhile, people walking is major congestion!!!

2:01PM PDT on May 12, 2012

Thanks for the info.

9:10AM PDT on May 12, 2012

wow-such vitriol! tone it down, friends :) I ride the bus in Gainesville, a mid-size town in north central Florida. 1) PROS: UF pays them to let us ride for free ; runs most days & some routes on Sat/Sun ; most bustops are convenient 2) CONS: Though the fare is reasonable, only bus service from Palatka to Gainesville on weekedays runs at times inconvenient for 8-5 employees ; many routes -especially evening routes on the periphery, don't run long enough into the evening to make use viable for workers leaving work at 9PM ; buses routinely are off-schedule due to # of buses running reductions ; suburban areas have poorly placed bus stops and very little service ; most efforts to ride the bus any distance are met with 40 min or greater one-way ride times --would DEFINITELY ride the buses more if these aspects were improved and government REALLY got behind public tranportation

1:07PM PDT on Oct 3, 2011

I recently had occasion to drive through New York City, including upper Manhattan (via the George Washington Bridge), and was astonished to see that the inbound toll (which really is meant to cover a round trip) had been raised to $12.00!!!!. I'm sure that this level or pricing is partly intended to discourage visitors and commuters from driving their cars into congested "downtown" urban areas. Perhaps setting up toll booths with deliberately inflated tolls on the peripheries of major arteries into other "city centers" and other high density commercial zones could be an effective deterrent to excessive lone-driver commuting!!

5:02AM PDT on Oct 3, 2011

Care2, please use a photo like http://www.freefoto.com/images/9909/06/9909_06_7209---Country-Road_web.jpg next time you write something of "grrrr, why nobody use public transportation?" so everyone else who makes comments as such(with name calling) can never forget some people. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2Bn7mJa_1t when you have a lot of this, the idea of going to work with people who don't live next door to you, or shopping by using the bus is out of the question. Not everyone wants to bike 20 miles to work

8:54PM PDT on Oct 1, 2011

A company I worked for a few years ago was trying to encourage bus riding. They produced a fancy handout for all employees detailing the bus routes they could take instead of driving. Most of us read them, ROTFL'd, and tossed them in the trash.
One example (mine):
To get to work, driving, I would leave him at 8:00 and arrive at 8:30.
To get to work via bus would involved two bus changes, and require me to catch the first bus at 6:45 am and arrive around 8:20 several blocks from my destination. The reverse commute was equally nightmarish. So, 1 hour a day in my car or 4 hours a day on the bus (counting time to walk to the bus stop)? Who are they kidding?????

7:56AM PDT on Sep 30, 2011

Many of you have said it for me and said it well - public transportation is inept and that was a deliberate ploy by the auto makers. I remember being told the trolly that went from the center of LA to the beach communities was torn out by the powers-that-be at the behest of the auto makers. It has more to do with making it a viable option for people than anything else.

1:28AM PDT on Sep 29, 2011

I wish i could bike to work. it'd take me more hours to ride to and from than I spend actually working

12:28PM PDT on Sep 28, 2011

Patrick, I live a chrmed life, check out my other pictures in my profile
BTW public transportation does not work with so many living in the burbs.

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