Driving Less, But More Are Driving Alone

traffic-jamBy Micheline Maynard

It’s well established that Americans are driving less, and taking shorter trips when they get behind the wheel. Some people have given up driving completely.

But the vast majority of people who are still driving appear to be driving alone.

The Wall Street Journal reports that in 2012, about 76 percent of workers 16 years and older drove to work alone—just shy of the all-time peak of 77 percent in 2005, according to data from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Here’s some more data. According to the Census Bureau, carpooling has fallen from about 20 percent of commutes in 1980 to under 10 percent in 2012. Public transportation accounted for just over six percent of daily commutes in 1980 and is now five percent. A category the Census Bureau calls “other means”—which includes biking—stands at two percent, largely unchanged over the past decade.

Those commuting trends seem a little puzzling, since there’s plenty of evidence that public transportation is seeing record demand. However, one development might help explain some of these shifts. On average, people are staying in the workforce well past the traditional retirement age of 65. And, about 45 percent of American workers say they don’t have access to public transportation. That means an older group of people who are getting in their cars and heading to work, either out of choice or necessity.

Remember, these are people who are actually driving to offices. The number of Americans who are able to work from home has doubled since 1980, to four percent of the population. That works out to at least 20 million people who can spend at least a day a week away from an office.

Since the end of World War II, America has been dominated by the image of people getting in their cars, and going to work. That’s still the case for many people, but not everyone.

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