People who earn more than $75,000 a year are more likely to ride transit than people in any other income bracket. Most of those high-income transit riders live not in big cities like New York or Chicago but in suburbs of those cities.
That information is from table B08119 from the 2016 American Community Survey. I’ve downloaded the table for the nation, states, counties, cities, and urbanized areas and posted it with calculations showing what percentage of people in each income bracket use each form of transportation. The calculations don’t show this, but you can calculate it for yourself, but about 18.5 percent of people earn more than $75,000 a year, but a full 24 percent of people riding transit earn more than that amount.
I was surprised to discover that New York City was not one of the places where people earning more than $75,000 were the most likely to take transit, so I added a column, EB, that flags those areas where the $75,000 bracket is the most likely to take transit. On a state level, this included Idaho, Illinois, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, and Wyoming.
- In the San Francisco Bay Area, it included Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, and Sonoma counties, but not San Francisco county.
- In Illinois, it included DuPage, Kane, Lake, and Will counties (all Chicago suburbs) as well as Cook County (home of Chicago), but not Chicago itself.
- In Massachusetts, it included Bristol, Essex, Norfolk, and Plymouth counties, but not Suffolk (Boston).
- In Connecticut, it included Litchfield and Fairfield counties (the two counties closest to New York), while in New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania it included many of the counties that are suburbs to New York City and Philadelphia, but not New York or Philadelphia themselves;
- It also included Fairfax, Loudoun, and Prince William counties (suburbs of Washington) in Virginia, but surprisingly not Montgomery County in Maryland or (less surprising) DC itself.
The table doesn’t have breakdowns for many Idaho counties or cities, but from past years the reason why Idaho is included is Idaho Falls, which is near a major nuclear engineering laboratory, most of whose employees take free buses to work. There also aren’t enough breakdowns in Wyoming but I suspect the results there have something to do with the oil industry near Casper.
Another table, B08141, shows how people get to work by the number of vehicles available in their household. Again, I’ve downloaded this table for the nation, states, counties, cities, and urbanized areas and posted it with calculations showing what percentage of workers live in households with zero, one, two, and three or more vehicles, and how workers in households with zero vehicles get to work.
Nationwide, just 4.3 percent of workers live in households with no vehicles. That’s down from 4.5 percent in 2015. Of those who live in households with no vehicles, 41.7 percent take transit to work, a slight increase from 41.4 percent in 2015. The share that carpool, work at home, and use other modes (taxi, bicycle, motorcycle) also increased slightly, while driving alone and walking declined.
A full 20.0 percent of people whose households have no cars nevertheless drive alone to work. I suspect most of them use employer-supplied vehicles. Although nationally people with no cars are twice as likely to take transit to work as drive alone, there are many places where the reverse is true. In fact, drive alone beats transit in 37 states, and of those local areas included in the 2016 tables, it also beats transit in more than half the cities, three out of four counties, and two out of three urban areas. I suspect it is true for most of the ones not included in the 2016 tables since they were excluded for being too small for the survey numbers to be reliable.
All of these numbers affirm that transit is no longer, for the most part, about helping poor people get to work. Instead, it is mostly about getting “choice” riders out of their cars and onto alternative forms of transportation. Since we know from other sources that transit isn’t particularly energy efficient or climate friendly compared with automobiles, this calls into question transit subsidies that average more than 85 cents a passenger mile when subsidies to highways are less than 2 cents a passenger mile.