While the car remains the dominant means of travel in the Washington region, many residents use a variety of modes to get around — either occasionally or as part of their daily routine, according to a Washington-Post-Schar School poll.
A new analysis of The Post-Schar School survey data found Washington-area residents can be split into four broad categories based on their travel habits, ranging from those most committed to their cars to those who lean heavily on the region’s transit system, ride-hailing apps, bikes and electric scooters.
The groups are:
Transportation Omnivores : Those residents who are early adopters of new services such as e-scooters and ride hailing and incorporate just about every mode of transportation in their travels. They represent 18 percent of the region’s residents.
Drivers Who Dabble : The largest group at 36 percent of residents, these are frequent drivers who will occasionally use Metro or try others modes but eventually return to their cars.
Completely Cars: The 26 percent of the region’s adults who for whatever reason are committed to their cars and only drive.
Homebodies: The 1 in 5 residents who travel less frequently in general.
“This region is a perfect example of one that is flush with many transportation options . . . and for the most part, what it gets down to is, people are going to make rational decisions based on their own unique needs and lifestyles,” said Robert Puentes, president and chief executive of the Eno Center for Transportation. “Most people will do whatever is most convenient, cheapest, most reliable and most predictable to get from where they are to where they are trying to go.”
Regionwide, 85 percent of D.C.-area residents drove their own car to get somewhere in the past year, and a clear 62 percent majority used their own cars to get around daily, according to The Post-Schar School poll. Transit use is much lower, with 7 percent of Washington-area residents saying they ride Metro daily. A similarly small 5 percent say they ride the bus daily, and even fewer — 1 percent — use commuter rail.
But The Post’s analysis shows that despite the strong dependency on the car overall, clusters in the region are committed to using other modes, while another bloc of casual users represents an opportunity for transit systems to boost their ridership.
The findings, experts say, are encouraging for a region that has set goals to reduce traffic congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. Projections by the region’s transportation planners show interest in modes other than driving are growing.
By 2045, trips made via walking and biking are projected to increase 49 percent, and transit trips are expected to increase 38 percent, according the Transportation Planning Board of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments. Trips made by single-occupancy vehicles will grow, too, but only by 12 percent.
“People are not only showing interest in alternatives to driving, they are beginning to use them,” said Kanti Srikanth, director of transportation planning at the Council of Governments. “Getting people trying all these things is step one.”
Paul Angelone’s commuting philosophy is, the more options the better. The urban planner isn’t willing to be behind the wheel all the time. When possible, he leaves the driving to others — the bus or Uber driver, the streetcar or Metro operator. He also bikes and walks.
“I try to drive as little as possible,” said Angelone, 36, who lives in the Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast Washington. “Generally speaking, it’s pretty easy to get around without a car.”
Transportation Omnivores like Angelone are nearly twice as likely to take public transit than to drive. Most have driven their own car in the past year, but fewer than 1 in 6 drive daily.
They’re more likely than the region’s residents overall to walk daily (65 percent vs. 37 percent) and to ride Metro at least a few times per week (65 percent vs. 16 percent).
They are more frequent Uber or Lyft customers — 55 percent ride-hail at least a few times a week, far higher than 15 percent of residents regionwide.
Nearly 1 in 6 bike places a few times a week or more often, about double the share regionwide (7 percent).
These relatively young adults live in the most dense areas of the region — 37 percent are D.C. residents, and 59 percent live in communities inside the Capital Beltway. Their proximity to downtown offers them more access to public transportation and options such as scooters and bike sharing.
This group is less likely than the region’s residents overall to prioritize improving roads (23 percent vs. 32 percent) or reducing traffic (18 percent vs. 28 percent).
They are more interested in improving bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Some — 15 percent — say leaders should focus most on making it easier to bike or walk places, compared with 9 percent of area residents overall.
“It is a good thing that we have options,” said Angelone, who moved to the District from Chicago a decade ago, lured in part by the city’s reputation as a testing ground for transportation innovation. The city was among the first to embrace bike sharing and to welcome disrupters such as Uber.
Angelone and his wife own a car they use mostly for long road trips and on errands with their infant daughter. He said he would like to see more invested in improving road safety and expanding walking, biking and transit opportunities.
“It’s the best way to get more people out of their cars,” he said.
D.C. resident Arnicia Jackson, 59, is a driver who says she’d switch to public transit if it were more reliable. She has tried the bus and Metro, and she sometimes uses Uber Pool. But she keeps finding herself back behind the wheel.
“I live in a part of town where everyone has a car,” said Jackson, who lives in the Woodridge neighborhood in Northeast D.C. “And we have limited public transportation.”
Jackson and other “Drivers Who Dabble” provide a target-rich environment for policymakers trying to lure people out of their cars and onto alternatives such as Metro and the bus. In interviews, some said they drive because transit doesn’t always work, while others said they’re willing try anything that will keep them from having to deal with the region’s horrendous traffic.
Among this group, more than 8 in 10 drive daily, higher than the region overall. More than 7 in 10 commute; of those, almost 9 in 10 drive to work.
Drivers Who Dabble use a wide range of other types of transportation at least occasionally, much more than the average Washingtonian. Nearly all have ridden Metro in the past year, and roughly 4 in 10 have ridden Metrobus. Over 6 in 10 walk to get where they want to go at least a few times a week, while more than 3 in 10 have ridden a bicycle in the past year. In addition, three-quarters have taken Uber, Lyft or a similar service.
Daniel Lower-Basch, 18, a recent high school graduate from Falls Church, is mostly a driver, too, but he occasionally uses Metro, bikes or walks.
“The Metro is really good when I need to head into D.C. because D.C. is a terrible place to bring a car because there’s so much traffic,” Lower-Basch said. “On the other hand, the Metro cannot get me right to the door of the places I want to go, and the car can.”
At the opposite end of the spectrum is Deborah Yates, a native Washingtonian who won’t even entertain the idea of giving up her car. Yates, 54, lives in Northeast, four blocks from a Metro Red Line station and steps from a Metrobus stop.
But Yates hasn’t ridden a bus in years and rarely uses Metro.
She is often driving between the District and Silver Spring, where she picks up her grandchildren, takes them to school, brings them back home, and takes them to the park and after-school activities.
“It would be hours if I tried to do it all on the bus,” Yates said.
About a quarter (26 percent) of Washington-area residents are like Yates: They drive everywhere and rarely use any other mode of transportation. The bus? Nope. Metro? Forget it. Scooters? You must be out of your mind. They aren’t even that enthusiastic about ride hailing.
Most of these Completely Cars folks (90 percent) drive daily, and most (81 percent) drive more than once a day. Of those who commute to work (74 percent), virtually all of them commute by car (98 percent).
A very small share tried transit in the last year: 3 percent rode Metro, and 2 percent took Metrobus.
They are also less likely to walk places compared with the region’s residents overall. More than a third (37 percent) walked to get from one place to another at least a few times a week over the past year, lagging behind area residents overall, 53 percent of whom walked at least a few times a week.
They are also overwhelmingly suburban, with more living in Virginia (59 percent) than Maryland (35 percent) and three-quarters living outside the Beltway. That in itself helps explain why they are so dependent on the car. Their access to alternatives, including Metro and buses, may be more limited, and options such as bike sharing and scooters are probably not available in their neighborhoods.
But there’s also a small (12 percent) group of D.C. residents who fit into this category — who are more exposed to those options and yet rely almost solely on their cars.
The die-hard drivers rank improvements to roads and reducing traffic congestion at the top of their transportation priorities.
Though Yates complains about poor road conditions, traffic and the hassles of parking, she’s not sure she could do without her vehicle.
“My car seems to be more convenient for me,” said Yates, who takes care of four grandchildren ages 4 to 12.
“If I didn’t have a car, I probably would have to stay in the house,” she said, laughing. “I don’t think I have the patience for the bus.”
Finally, there are the 20 percent of Washington-area residents who rarely leave home at all. In interviews, these Homebodies — many of whom are homemakers, people who work from home or retirees — know exactly what they’re missing by staying inside, and they don’t mind.
“The only thing I know about commuting stuff is to avoid it,” said Montgomery County resident John Gallivan, 75, a former federal contractor and car mechanic.
A 66 percent majority of Homebodies drove their car at least once in the previous year, but only about half as many (31 percent) drove on a daily basis.
Almost half walked to get some place in the past year, but fewer than 2 in 10 walked daily. Even fewer used ride-hail services, Metro or buses.
Homebodies live mostly in the suburbs, split between Maryland (44 percent) and Virginia (43 percent), with the remaining 13 percent living in the District.
Nearly three-quarters are 50 or older, including 41 percent who are 65 or older. Most (two-thirds) do not commute to a job.
Just over half (52 percent) of the region’s residents age 65 and older fit in this group.
Even though they drive less than other groups and the region overall, Homebodies have similar transportation policy priorities. A 39 percent plurality wants the region’s leaders to focus on improving roads; 24 percent say reducing traffic should be the priority.
Gallivan, who retired two years ago as a contractor with the Transportation Department, has plenty of opinions about transportation issues even though they don’t affect him as much now that he is retired.
He’s concerned about new toll lanes and whether people on fixed incomes will be able to afford them. Ask him about transit, and he compares Metro to his native New York, where subway fares are lower. Lower Metro fares to $2.50 a trip with bus transfer, he said, and more people might be inclined to ride.
The analysis was based on data from The Post-Schar School poll, which surveyed a random sample of 1,507 adults living in the Washington area and was conducted by telephone April 25 to May 2. Seventy-five percent of interviews were conducted on cellphones and 25 percent on landlines. Results from the full sample have a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.
Emily Guskin contributed to this report.