A Summary of 2011 Commuting Data Released Today

The Census Bureau's American Community Survey released its annual one-year snapshot of demographic data in the United States. As usual, this included journey to work (commuting data), which is summarized in the table below.

American Community Survey Commuting Data
2011, 2010 & 2000
ESTIMATES of Total Commuters 2000 2010 2011
Drive Alone 97.10 104.86 105.64
Car/Van Pool 15.63 13.27 13.39
Transit 5.87 6.77 6.96
Bicycle 0.49 0.73 0.78
Walk 3.76 3.80 3.89
Motorcyle, Taxi & Other 1.24 1.60 1.63
Work at Home 4.18 5.92 5.99
Total 128.28 136.94 138.27
In Millions
Drive Alone 75.70% 76.57% 76.40%
Car/Van Pool 12.19% 9.69% 9.68%
Transit 4.57% 4.94% 5.03%
Bicycle 0.38% 0.53% 0.56%
Walk 2.93% 2.77% 2.81%
Motorcyle, Taxi & Other 0.97% 1.17% 1.18%
Work at Home 3.26% 4.33% 4.34%
Total 100.00% 100.00% 100.00%
Sources: 2000, 2010 Census &  2011 American Community Survey


Trends Since 2010

As estimated employment improved from 137.9 million in 2010 to 138.3 from 2010 to 2011, there was an increase of 800,000 in the number of commuters driving alone, which, as usual, represented the vast majority of commuting (105.6 million daily one way trips), at 76.40 percent. This was not enough, however, to avoid a small (0.17 percentage point) decline in market share.

Car pooling experienced a rare increase of 120,000 commuters, which translated into a 0.1 percentage point loss in market share, to 9.68 percent. Transit increased 190,000 commuters, and had a 0.09 percentage point increase in market share, to 5.03 percent. This brought transit's market share to above its 2008 share of 5.01 percent and near its 1990 market share of 5.11 percent.

Working at home increased by 70,000, with a modest 0.1 percentage point increase from 2010.

Trends Since 2000

Even with declining falling household incomes and rising gasoline prices, single-occupant commuting continued to rise between 2000 and 2011. Solo drivers increased nearly 8 million, more than the total transit commuting in 2011. Car pooling continued its long-term decline, falling 2.2 million. Transit did well (as would be expected with unfavorable economic conditions and unprecedented gasoline price increases), as we noted last year, having added 1.1 million commuters. This was spread thinly around the country, though with a 70 percent concentration in New York and Washington, DC. Over the period, working at home experienced an increase of 1.8 million, the largest increase outside solo driving.

Media Attention

For the most part the commuting data was ignored by the media --- and for good reason. The one year changes were predictably modest. However, the exception was USA Today, with a top of the webpage "Fewer Americans Driving Solo" headline. In fact, as noted above, the short term and long term trends reflected an increase in solo driving. Moreover, reading the story it would be easy to get the impression that a sea change had occurred in how people get to work. To its credit, however, USA Today appropriately labeled the likely reasons for the mountains it made into molehills --- the economy and gasoline prices.