Trip time trends and transit

The Census Bureau has released its latest one-year estimate on the average travel time to work for Americans. The national average was 25.1 minutes, but metro Atlantans’ average commute was a full five minutes longer, making it the seventh-longest in the nation.

 The report offers even more food for thought in metro Atlanta, where transit is the focus as policy-makers discuss the proposals that will sway congestion-plagued voters in next year’s referendum on a regional transportation sales tax.

 As I pointed out in an August commentary, the regional round table committee is finalizing a list of transportation projects for the 10-county metro Atlanta region based on an anticipated $6.14 billion pot of money. That list includes transit projects that will gobble up nearly 56 percent of the pot. Think that will expedite your commute?

 The Census Bureau’s American Community Survey reports that at 34.6 minutes, the longest average commute was in the New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island metro area – the area with the nation’s highest rate of public transportation use. Thirty percent of New Yorkers use public transportation. In fact, three of the top five metro areas with the highest public transportation usage are also three of the five with the longest commutes for workers. (New York-Northern New Jersey-Long Island, N.Y., Washington-Arlington-Alexandria and Chicago-Naperville-Joliet.)

 Worse, the survey found that on overage, public transportation commuters took 20 minutes longer getting to work than those who drove alone. The average trip for a man driving alone to work, for example, was 25.3 minutes; by public transportation, it was 48.3 minutes.

Why is the transit focus a problem for Georgia, especially for metro Atlanta? While just 5 percent of U.S workers commute by public transportation, in Georgia it’s less than that. Just 2.4 percent of workers travel by public transportation (excluding taxicab); nearly 90 percent drive alone or carpool.  In metro Atlanta, according to a 2010 survey by the Department of Transportation, 94 percent of workers drive alone, carpool or telecommute. Three percent travel by rail and 2 percent by bus.

 Fifty-six percent of a sales tax going to transit just doesn’t make sense. Congestion solutions should focus on commuters’ choices. And it’s highly unlikely metro Atlantans will choose a longer trip to work.

Other interesting trends in the report:

  • Hinesville-Fort Stewart, Ga., is one of the top 10 walk-to-work communities.
  • Carpools are declining, all the more reason to put those HOV lanes to better use as HOT lanes.