Carpooling and mass transit decline; number of solo commuters on the rise

TrafficIf you drive to work alone then you are not, well — alone — in a manner of speaking. It seems that single use occupant vehicles have increased as a percentage of the commuter population while other more communal modes of transportation use have generally stagnated over the last three-plus decades.

A report issued by the California Center for Jobs & the Economy, sponsored by the California Business Roundtable, using numbers from the census and the American Community Survey, indicates that despite efforts to change attitudes about transportation the old stereotype holds true – Californians love their cars.

“The substantial investments in public transit, bike lanes and other alternative modes have not produced major gains in commuter use,” the report stated.

“Combined, public transit, carpooling and ‘other’ modes dropped from 30.3 percent of total commuters in 1980 to 21.5 percent in 2013 and to 21.1 percent in 2014. In total numbers, use of these three modes increased only 430,000 workers by 2014, while use of single occupant vehicles increased by 5.5 million workers.”

More cars on the road means those roads take a beating, which has led Gov. Jerry Brown to call a special session to deal with funding to fix the roads. While Brown wants tax increases to fix the roads, Republicans in the Legislature are seeking to make sure that money collected for transportation purposes is spent on the roads and not siphoned off for other purposes.

Yesterday, Assemblyman Mathew Harper, R-Huntington Beach, introduced a bill that would give the voters a say in whether gas taxes are increased for the roads. Harking back to the governor’s pledge, made when he began his third term, to seek a vote of the people before taxes are raised, Harper said in a release, “I am proposing we do exactly the same thing here. Letting the people decide what they think about new taxes before we force new taxes upon them is not a revolutionary idea.”

It’s an interesting gambit, moving the tax decision away from the legislators but perhaps breathing life into the gas tax choice given that Republicans seem determined not to give a gas tax measure the necessary votes it needs to pass. When Gov. Brown wanted to put a tax on the ballot for voters to decide soon after he took office in 2011, Republicans would not go along. Are Republicans willing to let voters decide this time? However, a gas tax increase never scores well in polling.

While the issue of funding roads dominates the transportation discussion, the Center’s report argued that the increase in auto travel is tied to another major policy issue in California — the cost of housing.

“The continued growth of single occupant vehicles is fully consistent with the all-too familiar need in California to broaden the geographic search region in order to find housing commensurate with workers’ incomes,” the study stated. “In California, the growing body of land use, energy, CEQA and other regulations affecting housing cost and supply has put both the cost of housing ownership and rents within traditional employment centers out of the reach of many households.”

The solution offered in the report: “Regulatory reform to make housing in the urban centers more affordable for a broader swath of California’s workers.”

While officials try to figure a way to deal with increased volume on the roads, new technology may add to the burden.

Driverless cars might increase the ride-alone phenomenon. If some of the public transit users enjoy the ability to relax or read as they commute, driverless cars would give the same opportunity with the convenience of door-to-door service.

Related Articles

PRI-Forum for Corporate Directors discussion Oct. 23

The Pacific Research Institute,’s parent think tank, is partnering with the Forum for Corporate Directors in a breakfast panel

Solar power causing problems with electricity grid

One theme has covered is how solar power can cause problems to the state’s existing electricity grid. An investigation a year

More people fleeing America to freedom

How shameful. America, once the refuge of millions fleeing tyranny, now is seeing its best and brights escape here to