Report Shows Texas cities Driving Less, Using Transit and Alternatives More

Reduction in Car Commuting Among Nation’s Fastest and Rise in Public Transit Miles Among Steepest in Nation

TexPIRG Education Fund

Austin – A first-of-its-kind report by TexPIRG Education Fund shows reduced driving miles and rates of car commuting in Texas’s urbanized areas—including Austin, San Antonio and Houston —and greater use of public transit and biking.

“There is a shift away from driving in our cities here in Texas and across the country,” said Sara Smith, Program Director for the TexPIRG Education Fund. “Policy makers need to wake up and realize the driving boom is over. Based on these national and local trends, we should be investing in public transit and biking for the future. Research continuously shows that Texans want to drive less, and use alternative forms of transportation more – yet our dollars continue to go to wasteful highway projects.”

U.S.Rep. Lloyd Doggett (D-Austin and San Antonio), a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee hopes to add additional federal dollars to increased transportation projects across Texas. “Cycling, ridesharing, and public transportation offer healthier, cleaner, money-saving alternatives to single-occupancy driving.  I will continue to work for federal support of transportation solutions that cut traffic delays and curb pollution.”

The report, “Transportation in Transition: A Look at Changing Travel Patterns in America’s Biggest Cities,” is based on the most current available government data. It is the first ever national study to compare transportation trends for America’s largest cities. Among its findings:                                                       

  • The proportion of workers commuting by private vehicle—either alone or in a carpool—declined in 99 out of 100 of America’s most populous urbanized areas between 2000 and the 2007-2011 period.
  • The number of passenger miles travelled on transit per capita increased 366 percent in McAllen between 2005 and 2010, making it the largest increase in passenger miles traveled in the nation. In Austin, transit passenger miles per person increased by 22.9 percent—the 21sh largest percentage increase among the 100 largest urban areas in that category. Measured in terms of the number of trips taken on public transit per-capita, San Antonio witnessed a 1.5  percent increase from 2005 to 2010.
  • The percent of workers commuting by private vehicle in the Austin urbanized area fell 4.5  percent between 2000 and the 2007 to 2011 period—the 3rd largest reduction out of the 100 largest urbanized areas in the U.S..
  • The proportion of commuters travelling by bicycle grew in Austin, as it did in 85 of the most populous 100 urbanized areas between 2000 and 2010. Austin ranked 16th in the nation for increase in percentage of commuters travelling by bicycle.
  • The proportion of residents working out of their home increased in all 100 of America’s most populous urbanized areas between 2000 and 2010, including in Austin, Houston and San Antonio. Austin ranks 4th in the nation for percentage of residence working from home.

The study found that cities with the largest decreases in driving were not those hit hardest by the recession. On the contrary, the economies of urbanized areas with the largest declines in driving appear to have been less affected by the recession according to unemployment, income and poverty indicators.

“We’re pleased to see that the data shows Americans are reducing their vehicle-miles traveled, especially when it’s in exchange for alternative modes of transportation,” said Paul Steinberg, Director of Americas for Carma, a real-time carpooling app that is running a pilot in Austin.  “We see great potential in Austin for the adoption of new technologies that increase the use of alternative transportation modes including ridesharing, bikesharing, and public transit.”

“It’s time for politicians in Austin to support transportation initiatives that reflects these travel trends,” said Smith. “Instead of wasting taxpayer dollars continuing to enlarge our grandfather’s Interstate Highway System, we should be investing in the kinds of transportation options that the public increasingly favors.”

While Austin clearly leads the way fueling the trend towards reduced driving, Mayor Annise Parker hopes to increase the use of public transportation and alternative forms of transportation for Houston. “Through the work of the New METRO, Houston is taking an aggressive approach to providing alternatives to driving.   We are building three new light-rail lines that will triple the size of our current 7.5 mile line.  We are also refocusing on how best to maximize use of our bus system through a route re-imagining project.  User-friendly amenities such as bike racks on buses and a trip app with real-time bus information and interactive system maps are also helping to get more people out of their cars and onto public transit.”

Across the nation, young people have shown the steepest reductions in driving. Americans 16 to 34 years of age reduced their average driving miles by 23 percent between 2001 and 2009.

Dan Keshet is an executive committee member for Austinites for Urban Rail works, a local advocacy group that works for the inclusive, transparent, data-driven, and successful development of urban rail in Austin. “For too long, our transportation spending has been on cruise control, with too much money spent on roads and not enough on public transportation.  Here in Austin, buses filled with dozens of people sit in traffic behind cars with only one.  We have an opportunity for a transportation system that can move more people, more efficiently, by building out urban rail along routes where data shows residential and employment densities that will support it.”

To read an earlier TexPIRG Education Fund report on the implications of the national decline in driving, download, “A New Direction: Our Changing Relationship with Driving and the Implications for America’s Future” download here.

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TexPIRG Education Fund works to protect consumers and promote good government. We investigate problems, craft solutions, educate the public, and offer meaningful opportunities for civic participation.