Despite huge efforts to get people out of single-occupancy vehicles, nearly 8 million more people drove alone to work in 2010 than in 2000, according to data released by the Census Bureau. Wendell Cox’s review of the data show that the other big gainer was “worked at home,” which grew by nearly 2 million over the decade.
Transit gained less than a million, but transit numbers were so small in 2000 that its share grew from 4.6 percent to 4.9 percent of total workers. While drive alone grew from 75.6 percent to 76.5 percent, the big loser was carpooling, which declined by more than 2 million workers. As a result, driving’s share as a whole declined from 87.9 percent to 86.2 percent.
These numbers are based on a comparison of American Community Survey data for 2010 with census data for 2000. These data come from census “long” forms that ask such nosy questions as how many rooms are in your house, how much money you make, and how long it takes you to get to work. However, in 2000 the Census Bureau asked 43 million people to fill out a long form, while the 2010 American Community Survey reached little more than 10 percent of that number. This means the results may not be quite as accurate (though 4.47 million is still a huge sample), and at the moment the Census Bureau has released results only for counties and cities with more than 65,000 people.
The Antiplanner downloaded 2000 and 2010 data showing how people got to work by county. The 2000 data covered more than 3,200 counties while the 2010 data so far report only about 360 counties. But those are the counties with the most people and include about two-thirds of all the workers in the country. Numbers quoted below are based on these counties, but adding the less-populous counties of metropolitan areas should not change them much.
These numbers provide some indication of the success or failure of recent rail transit programs. Transit ridership suffered especially large losses in several major counties.
The number of people taking transit to work in Denver County, for example, declined by 20 percent even though jobs grew by 3.5 percent. Denver’s newest light-rail line goes from Denver to Arapahoe and Douglas counties, and these two counties enjoyed large percentage gains in ridership. But overall, transit in the Denver metro area lost more than 1,300 daily commuters despite the region gaining more than 60,000 new jobs. This suggests that Denver has neglected its bus lines to pay for its rail lines.
San Jose (Santa Clara County) is another big loser. Although the Silicon Valley county lost almost 4 percent of its jobs, transit commuting declined by a whopping 17 percent, or nearly 5,000 commuters. It is possible that the job losses hit low-income or other riders who might be more inclined to ride transit, but it is also true that the region’s transit agency was forced to make huge cuts in all of its transit services because declines in tax revenues combined with the high cost of rail transit put it close to bankruptcy.
Dallas and Houston (Harris County) also lost large numbers of transit riders. Dallas County lost nearly 8,000 transit commuters despite gaining more than 41,000 jobs. While Collin County, at the end of one of Dallas’ light-rail lines, gained 2,000 transit commuters, this and gains in other suburban counties doesn’t come close to making up for the loss in the central county. Similarly, Harris County lost 7,200 transit commuters despite gaining a whopping 335,000 new jobs. Again, transit’s tiny gains in suburban counties–none of which are served by light rail–failed to come close to making up for Harris County’s loss.
Baltimore lost almost 3,000 transit commuters despite gaining more than 6,000 new jobs. Atlanta gained more than 37,000 new jobs, virtually all of whom drive to work alone as transit commuting grew by a mere 377. Salt Lake County gained 41,000 new jobs but lost nearly 1,300 transit commuters.
Transit lost thousands of commuters in Chicago’s Cook, DuPage, Lake, and McHenry counties, which were only partly made up for by gains in Kane and Will counties. The biggest loss was in Cook County, which is mainly served by the Chicago Transit Authority, while the gains were in counties served by Metra commuter trains. At least some local residents believe that Chicago’s Regional Transit Authority, which oversees both the CTA and Metra, has been biased towards Metra because it mainly serves white suburbanites while CTA serves black inner-city residents.
Transit commuting in Portland, the city the Antiplanner loves to bash, grew by 1,900 out of 21,500 new commuters in the tri-county area (Clackamas, Multnomah, and Washington counties). Transit fell slightly in Clackamas County, which doesn’t yet have a light-rail line, but gained in Multnomah and Washington counties, which do have light rail. But transit’s gain can hardly be a major victory when bicycle commuters grew by more than 15,000 (80 percent in Multnomah County) and walking grew by more than 5,000 (80 percent in Washington County). Driving alone grew by 16,000 while carpooling declined by 17,000, suggesting that there were around 8,000 new commuter cars on the road at the end of the decade.
Transit did better in a few other light-rail counties. Transit gained a respectable 4,460 new commuters in Minneapolis (Hennepin County) despite a county-wide loss of more than 22,000 jobs. But transit also increased in most other Minneapolis-St. Paul counties even though light rail so far serves only Hennepin County. Transit also gained more than 5,000 new commuters in Maricopa County (Phoenix), but this is less impressive considering the county gained almost 200,000 new jobs.
An amazing number of people are daring enough to ride the Washington Metro system, as 2010 saw more than 113,000 new transit commuters out of about 320,000 new workers. Boston transit also did well, with the four core counties (Middlesex, Norfolk, Plymouth, and Suffolk) gaining 17,000 new transit commuters out of 26,000 new jobs. Transit also did very well in the New York metro area, where almost all new commuters rode transit.
Transit gained market share slightly in Los Angeles, Sacramento, and the San Francisco Bay Area, but lost slightly in San Diego. It gained in Ft. Lauderdale (Broward County) but lost in Miami-Dade County; gained a little in Charlotte, Nashville, Philadelphia, St. Louis, and Seattle but lost a little in Austin, Cleveland, and Pittsburgh.
On the other hand, transit managed to gain market share in a number of communities that lack rail transit, showing that buses alone can attract riders. Among other places, these include Mobile and Montgomery, AL; Gainesville and Tampa, FL; Honolulu; Greensboro, NC; Tulsa; Provo; and Virginia Beach. Many of these cities have plans to build rail transit; the Antiplanner predicts that, if they do, most will lose transit commuters as the high cost of rail transit forces cutbacks in bus service.
The 2010 data offer rail transit supporters little to be proud of. Transit did best in dense, older cities such as Boston, New York, and Washington (but not Chicago), and transit did okay in a few new rail cities such as Minneapolis and Phoenix. But declines in transit commuting in Baltimore, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Salt Lake, and San Jose and transit’s loss of market share in Atlanta, Portland, and a few other regions can be at least partly blamed on the high cost of rail transit and resulting cutbacks in bus service. The only good thing that can be said about Portland is that transit’s loss of market share was to cycling and walking, not to driving; all those billions spent on light rail haven’t gotten many people out of their cars.