Decline in carpooling could signal availability of more transportation options

By Bill Holloway

New data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows fewer commuters carpooled to work in 2013 compared to 2012. Over the past five years the share of commuters traveling in a carpool has declined from 10.04% to 9.36%.

Washington State, which has actively promoted carpooling through WSDOT’s Commute Trip Reduction program, has seen an even steeper decline in the share of commuters using carpools, from 11.34 percent in 2009 to 10.07 percent in 2013.

SSTI contacted Kathy Johnston, the CTR Program Manager, and she does not think the drop is cause for alarm. Although she didn’t have hard data that could explain the change, she noted that with more communities focusing on improving their transit and bicycle/pedestrian infrastructure, and some employers relocating to more accessible locations, many former carpoolers are likely traveling to work by these modes rather than driving. Johnston also notes that communities around the state remain interested in expanding their carpooling programs.

Rather than signifying the beginning of a shift away from sustainable transportation, carpooling may just be ceding ground to biking, walking, transit, and telecommuting. The greater flexibility afforded to non-drivers by denser communities, more bike- and pedestrian-friendly streets, and better transit could be reducing carpooling’s captive audience. If that’s the case, the declining share of carpoolers could be the beginning of a multimodal transportation success story.

Bill Holloway is a Transportation Policy Analyst at SSTI.