Census Data Show Transit's Devastation


More than three times as many people worked at home in 2021 as in 2019, according to data that was released yesterday by the Census Bureau. While this isn’t surprising, the increase in telecommuting had an outsized impact on transit commuting, which declined by more than 50 percent. For comparison, the number of people driving alone to work declined by only 12 percent.

These numbers are from the American Community Survey, a questionnaire that the Census Bureau has sent to about 3.5 million households each year since 2005. Due to the pandemic, the Census Bureau did not do a complete survey in 2020. However, 2021 data are directly comparable to 2019 numbers to get an indication of changes due to the pandemic.

The survey produces more than 1,500 tables about population, race, incomes, housing, commuting, education, and other information. Today, I’ll focus on tables B08103, “Means of Transportation to Work,” B08119, “Means of Transportation to Work by Workers’ Earnings in the Past 12 Months,” B08141, “Means of Transportation to Work by Vehicles in Household,” and B25044, “Tenure by Vehicles in Household.” I’ll write about other tables in future posts.

Nearly 7.8 million people took transit to work in 2019 while 9.0 million worked at home. In 2021, transit commuters dropped to 3.8 million as telecommuting rose to 27.6 million.

High-income people were much more likely to switch to working at home in 2021. Almost a third of people earning more than $75,000 a year and more than a fifth of those earning $65,000 to $75,000 telecommuted in 2021, while only about 12 percent of those earning under $25,000 worked at home.

Still, transit commuting dropped at all income levels. About 65 percent fewer people earning more than $75,000 commuted by transit in 2021 than in 2019, while the share of those earning less than $25,000 who commuted by transit dropped by more than 40 percent.

Transit agencies have long argued that they helped low-income people get to work, but the number of low-income people who took transit to work actually declined between 2010 and 2019, while the number of high-income transit commuters grew. As a result, by 2017, the median income of transit commuters was higher than for any other type of commuters. Only people who worked at home had higher median incomes.

Read the rest of this piece at The Antiplanner.

Randal O'Toole, the Antiplanner, is a policy analyst with nearly 50 years of experience reviewing transportation and land-use plans and the author of The Best-Laid Plans: How Government Planning Harms Your Quality of Life, Your Pocketbook, and Your Future.

Photo: MTA, via Flickr under CC 2.0 License.