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.


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  1. Sean
    Sean 5 March, 2016, 09:08

    There are so many factors that can affect car pooling / public transportation / living within walking or biking distance of work.

    First, public transportation often doubles the commute time for most individuals since routes are rarely direct, often requiring transfers or long walks at either end of the ride.

    Second, the nature of the workplace has changed drastically. We no longer of large factories with set shifts that lends itself to carpooling. Instead, employment is more dispersed in a service economy. That same service economy also has to accommodate the schedules of it’s customers which means 8 to 5 has become an 8 hour shift that will occur between 7 AM and 9 PM. Then there’s flex time.

    Finally, while I agree that regulations and limits to development reduce the supply of housing, I also don’t think the effects of proposition 13 can be ignored. That law makes it very easy for retirees and older people to hang onto their homes even though the value of their homes soar. That was it’s intention. But I know from my own mother’s experience at the end her life that she held onto that home, even after she had moved on to an assisted living center. The cost of property taxes was only slightly more than $1000 a year which had been established nearly 40 years previously so it was easy to hang onto the house that was completely inappropriate for her. I wonder how much housing stock close to employment centers is tied up like this?

    Reply this comment
    • BJD
      BJD 5 March, 2016, 15:29

      So YOU decide what’s appropriate housing for your mother? Too bad she had a say in it, hey cupcake. Maybe euthanasia would be an avenue you would be interested in. Seriously though, those legacy homes can have a positive impact on the rental market. Low tax allows lower rents. The market is starving for rental homes.

      Reply this comment
      • phood
        phood 9 March, 2016, 12:21

        Interesting comment. Low taxes may lead to lower rents but they also lead to lower development and maintenance. In many downtown areas, a significant number of rundown, underutilized, or undeveloped properties have Prop 13. tax protection. With higher taxes those same properties would be given higher-value uses, such as building denser housing for more people.

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  2. Dude
    Dude 5 March, 2016, 09:10

    “…despite efforts to change attitudes about transportation…”

    Who are the arrogant PUBLIC SERVANTS that mistakenly believe it is their place to dictate anything to us? Their job is to take orders from We The People and execute them as we see fit. Moonbeam has refused to accept this. Maybe it’s time we explain it to him the way we explained it to Gray Davis.

    Reply this comment
  3. Ronald
    Ronald 5 March, 2016, 10:48

    Shrinking ridership on public transportation may be a sign of things to come for the Bullet Train and the States’ optimistic ridership projections to justify the project. The State is only required to build the high speed rail, then turn it over to an operator. If the high speed rail ever gets built, the completed project will be doomed to failure even before it’s turned over to an operator.

    Since state law says that the system MUST OPERATE WITHOUT A TAXPAYER SUBSIDY, the end results may necessitate higher fares per mile, compared with other similar rail systems worldwide, this will adversely affect ridership projections. Thus, it’s understandable that an investment in the bullet train provides significant ROI risks to that invested capital.

    The bullet train will be competing against the multitude of airports in CA as well as the constantly developing technologies that are affecting the way we do business. Just like the land phones that have become obsolete as a result of cell phone technologies, future travel needs may be impacted in the coming decades as a result of the ever growing virtual world.

    Driving or flying from a multitude of airports can be done at virtually any time of day, but the inflexibility of how many train departure times would be available from a limited number of trains would impact the convenience factor offered by cars and planes and thus also adversely affect train ridership. The snowballing effect of lower ridership would be higher fares for those that do use the train as there would be no state subsidies available. Lower ridership would further impact the ROI risks for invested capital.

    Reply this comment
  4. Richard Rider
    Richard Rider 5 March, 2016, 12:02

    “Billions spent, but fewer people are using public transportation in Southern California than in 1985”
    by Richard Rider

    Here’s a thoughtful article from the liberal LA TIMES on the failure of public transit to gain traction in the city of Los Angeles. Light rail mass transit is ever-popular with choo-choo train lovers and central planners, but doesn’t serve the needs of most of the demographic segment that NEEDS public transportation — the poor and the blue collar folks. Meanwhile providing a quality, responsive bus service has been a low priority for central planners. The results speak for themselves.

    EXCERPT: “Despite a $9-billion investment in new light rail and subway lines, [LA County] Metro now has fewer boardings than it did three decades ago [1985], when buses were the county’s only transit option.”

    Of course, the central planners’ answer is always the same — “It doesn’t work, so we need to do MORE of the same.” Sigh.
    One thing’s for sure — the planners still get their fat paychecks and astonishingly rich pensions. No performance standards are in play.

    “Billions spent, but fewer people are using public transportation in Southern California”

    Los Angeles Times

    Metro plans to spend more than $12 billion over the next 10 years to build two new rail lines and three extensions, the largest capital investment of any transit agency in the country. (Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)
    Laura J. Nelson and Dan WeikelContact Reporters

    For almost a decade, transit ridership has declined across Southern California despite enormous and costly efforts by top transportation officials to entice people out of their cars and onto buses and trains.

    The Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the region’s largest carrier, lost more than 10% of its boardings from 2006 to 2015, a decline that appears to be accelerating. Despite a $9-billion investment in new light rail and subway lines, Metro now has fewer boardings than it did three decades ago, when buses were the county’s only transit option.

    Most other agencies fare no better. In Orange County, bus ridership plummeted 30% in the last seven years, while some smaller bus operators across the region have experienced declines approaching 25%. In the last two years alone, a Metro study found that 16 transit providers in Los Angeles County saw average quarterly declines of 4% to 5%.

    . . .

    To read the full LA TIMES article, go to the link.

    Reply this comment
  5. DavidfromLosGatos
    DavidfromLosGatos 5 March, 2016, 12:07

    Although it does not explain the long term trend, the short term is probably influenced by the relatively cheap gasoline prices as of late. The price for riding public transportation does not go down when gas prices go down; so the savings from driving yourself are even greater.

    Reply this comment
    • Richard Rider
      Richard Rider 5 March, 2016, 12:19

      Public transit is cheaper regardless of gas prices, but that’s not the deciding factor.

      Cars are pretty much “door to door,” and can be used for running errands (and toting purchased items) while returning from work — unlike transit. Cars are usually FASTER than transit, given the time spent getting from the station/bus stop to and from your final destination. And finally, people value their “alone time,” and are willing to pay a premium for that option.

      Reply this comment
  6. Ulysses Uhaul
    Ulysses Uhaul 6 March, 2016, 23:07

    So why the maddening push for driverless autos?

    Cut labor out of transportation and the emotional component out of driving…..road rages, drunk and doper driving, speeding, wreckless driving.

    For those who loose their jobs…..Call Trump!

    Reply this comment
  7. Bob D.
    Bob D. 7 March, 2016, 13:50

    First, they destroyed the simple bus line I used to get to downtown LA several years ago and replaced it with a bus, train, another bus sort of thing that would have taken at least twice as long. One thing to look at maps and charts, and another to actually use the things. I was disappointed and can see why things have deteriorated.

    Reply this comment

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