Commuters opt to drive alone

Larry Flynn / December 28, 2000

A new report on national commuting patterns, which received a lot of air
play on radio stations across the country in August, verifies what many
in the highway industry have known for some time: job creation in the suburbs
and a need for more flexible mobility are drawing American commuters away
from carpooling in great numbers in favor of single-occupancy vehicles.

The flight-to-freedom of the American commuter is being conducted despite
attempts by government and anti-highway, anti-auto factions to modify the
behavior of commuters and to outright force them into carpools, often little-used
HOV lanes and mass transit.

The report, Commuting in America II, is aimed at providing transportation
planners with information that can be used in mapping transportation strategy.
Conducted by Alan Pisarski, a Washington, D.C.-based transportation consultant,
and published by the Eno Transportation Foundation Inc., Washington, D.C.,
the report is based on journey-to-work data found in the 1990 federal census.
Eighteen transportation-related organizations, including the American Association
of State Highway & Transportation Officials (AASHTO), American Highway
Users Alliance (AHUA) and the American Public Transit Association, sponsored
the report. A similar report was conducted in 1987 by Pisarski using commuting
information found in the 1980 census.

The 20% decline in carpooling, from the 19 million in 1980 to 15.4 million
in 1990, should lead planners to realizations about the importance of providing
increased road capacity for commuters into larger urban areas. If commuters
are not able to get around the way they want and need to-in a car by themselves-then
they'll move to where they are able to do so-to the suburbs and outer regions
of the metropolitan areas.

No amount of congestion is going to make the American commuter carpool or
use mass transit unless it's convenient for his or her lifestyle, and for
the great percentage of commuters these modes of transportation are not
convenient. This is why you often see HOV lanes nearly empty while traffic
is snarled on a highway's remaining three or four lanes. This also is why
transit has widespread ridership as well as money problems, and is looking
to highways to help subsidize its existence.

"People are very pressured for time and saving time is very important
to them," Pisarski told ROADS & BRIDGES. "That's why they
are going to the automobile; that's why women, particularly, are shifting
to the automobile.

"The theory is somehow that if you congest things enough you'll force
people to use mass transit," Pisarski said. "I've been watching
this game for a long time and what happens is [people] go away. They move
somewhere else, out to the edges of the regions and the jobs follow. I think
the real story of the future is going to be companies looking for competent
employees, and companies will go where they think they can find them."

Copies of the report are available for $25 (post-paid) from AASHTO Publications,
444 N. Capitol St., NW, Suite 249, Washington, DC 20001.

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