Reconsidering the Traditional Commute

Screen shot 2015-09-01 at 12.32.43 PMLast month the American Community Survey (ACS) released a new report: Who Drives to Work? Commuting by Automobile in the United States: 2013. The punch line is that most people are still driving alone to work, but that trend is dropping off slightly nation wide, and dropping most significantly among younger workers who live “in a principal city, or in a metro area.”

The fact that millennials are choosing to drive less isn’t news, but there is some interesting information buried in that data: the areas showing the greatest declines in driving are metro areas that have intentionally promoted alternatives.

To be clear, that doesn’t necessarily mean metro areas with great public transit systems. Instead, the data shows that metro areas with the highest shift away from “drive alone” commuting got relief because they have a lot of people working from home (Boulder, CO), or got more people walking to work (Missoula, MT). Others still have strong bicycling infrastructure (Corvallis, OR), and then of course there are several metro areas with strong transport networks (New York City, Boston, and Washington D.C.).

So why should you, Austin commuters, care about this? Because the way our city chooses to address mobility will significantly impact your workday, your personal time, and your finances.

In 2013 the Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce estimated that 40% of our commuters would need to use alternatives in order to get people to and from work without experiencing hours of pain and traffic in each direction. Our research tells us that about 15-20% of downtown workers currently use mobility options on a given day, and another 20-30% of workers are so frustrated by traffic and parking that they are very interested in exploring travel options. However, at our current rate of work, Movability Austin may be able to talk with enough companies and employees to get 10% of today’s commuters to commit to trying travel alternatives by 2020. That still leaves a significant gap in achieving the goal of 40% of today’s workers using travel alternatives, and leaves an even bigger gap when you consider the downtown workforce could easily swell beyond 150,000 by 2020.

That is why we are excited to see Mayor Adler leading the charge for the 2015 Mobility Challenge to employers, and see transportation agencies more focused than ever before on their role in increasing the use of alternatives (to drive-alone trips), as well as all sorts of technology innovations and disruptions coming none too soon.

Photo courtesy of Capital Metro

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