It’s a lead paragraph that could be written one of two ways:
• Despite more Washington-area commuters finding alternatives, single-occupant driving remains by far the dominant source of getting from home to work and back again.
• Drive-alone commuting continues to decline in the Washington area, its place being taken by transit and telework.
For the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, which on Sept. 18 was updated on Commuter Connections’ 2019 “State of the Commute” report, it was that second bullet-point’s phrasing that provided reason to cheer.
“It is a step in the right direction to see the decline in solo driving, and we need to continue to work together as a region to promote transportation alternatives,” said Martin Nohe, a Prince William County supervisor and chairman of the Transportation Planning Board (TPB).
The 2019 survey, based on responses from commuters in a poll of 8,246 regional residents, showed that 63 percent of work trips made across the region are in single-occupant vehicles. Factor telecommuting into the mix, and single-occupant drivers represent 58 percent of the total workforce, down from 71 percent in a similar study conducted in 2004.
It is the growth of telework that might be the big story of the survey. Extrapolating data from the survey sample, as many as 1 million Washington workers spent at least some time working at home or from regional locations, up significantly.
About a quarter of workers use transit – bus, Metrorail and/or regional train service – while smaller numbers use carpools/vanpools, bikes, taxis, scooters and pedestrian power to get to and from their place of employment.
“Growth in, and regional improvements to, different commuting options – like transit and teleworking – is allowing more residents in the D.C. region to leave their cars at home,” said Nicholas Ramfos, director of Commuter Connections.
The 2019 survey shows little change in the average distance of commute for Washington-area residents – about 17 miles – since 2004, but the average travel time (43 minutes) has risen 26 percent in the same period.
According to the survey, the most satisfied commuters are those who can get from Point A to B by bike or on foot, with 92 percent saying they were satisfied with their commute. That’s down from 97 percent from a 2016 survey, but nearly every other commute form showed declines, too:
• Those satisfied commuting by bus were 62 percent in 2019, compared to 66 percent in 2016.
• Those satisfied with commuting by long-distance transit (like MARC or Virginia Railway Express) dropped from 70 percent in 2016 to 56 percent in 2019.
• Those satisfied with carpooling/vanpooling to work dropped from 66 percent to 48 percent.
• Those satisfied with driving alone dipped from 57 percent to 45 percent.
On the flip side, the satisfaction rating of those using Metrorail rose from 48 percent in 2016 to 56 percent in 2019, but remained well below the 67-percent satisfaction rate reported in 2013.