A survey done every three years for the D.C. region’s Transportation Planning Board compares commuter satisfaction with various ways of getting around, and the latest one shows how much support Metrorail has lost — even before the SafeTrack maintenance disruptions started.
In fact, Metrorail riders voiced the lowest level of satisfaction among commuters using any travel method. Only 48 percent said they were satisfied or very satisfied, according to the State of the Commute report. Three years ago, it was 67 percent.
Even solo drivers feel better about their commute, though that’s also down from the 2013 survey. Commuter happiness is most likely to be found among bikers and walkers, as the chart below shows.
The State of the Commute Survey, conducted since 2001 by the planning board’s Commuter Connections program, is always a great snapshot of how people are getting to and from work, and it helps us understand their changing patterns. It surveys about 6,000 employed people in the D.C. region by phone and Internet. The preliminary findings based on the 2016 results are being presented to the planning board members Wednesday.
These are some of the other highlights, a mix of good and bad news for transportation planners and commuters.
- The percentage of people who drive alone has dropped in recent years, but it is by far the most common method of commuting. It’s the choice of 61 percent.
- Carpooling and vanpooling dropped a bit, to 5 percent of commuters.
- Biking and walking are up, though like carpooling and vanpooling, they still account for only a sliver of commuters, at 3 percent.
- A bright spot is the steady growth of teleworking, the choice of 10 percent.
This is not good: On average, commuters are traveling longer distances, and trips are taking longer than they did in the 2013 survey. The average one-way commute distance is 17.3 miles, and the average one-way commute time is 39 minutes, according to the survey. The chart below shows the trends.
But there is something positive within the averages. The share of people commuting less than five miles is growing.
The time spent commuting differs by travel method. Commuters who drive alone tend to have the shortest one-way commute times — an average of about 35 minutes — among those who use a motorized type of transport. An average one-way walking commute was 17 minutes. By bike, the average was a 22-minute trip. Transit riders had an average range of 47 to 48 minutes. People who use commuter rail systems had an average one-way commute time of 72 minutes.
There are some interesting findings within all these averages.
Commuter patterns vary with geography. The rate of commuters driving alone is lowest among people who live or work in the region’s core. About 4 in 10 of those people are solo drivers, according to the survey results. In the outer suburbs, about eight in 10 drive alone most days.
And while teleworking still has a relatively low share as a primary method of commuting, the survey found that 32 percent of commuters work remotely “at least occasionally.” In 2013, the rate was 27 percent. The researchers say that’s a gain of about 200,000 teleworkers.
Even better: The survey results suggest that an additional half-million could or would telework if they had the opportunity. (Pay attention to that, employers.)
When SafeTrack disruptions affect tens of thousands of commuters but don’t result in regional gridlock on the roads, consider the role that teleworking is playing in easing the impact. Nearly half of Metrorail riders surveyed say they can telework at least occasionally.