commuting

Transit’s Growing Costs Drive Away Low-Income Commuters

The Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey revealed that, for the first time since the Census Bureau began keeping track of such data in 1960, the median income of transit commuters has risen above the median income of all American workers. 

One reason transit commuter incomes have risen is that low-income transit riders are giving up on transit. Thanks to a growing economy, the number of people who earn less than $15,000 a year has declined, but the number of transit commuters who are in that income bracket has declined even faster, so that low-income commuters are 8 percent less likely to use transit than they were a decade ago. Meanwhile, people earning more than $75,000 a year were 10 percent more likely to commute by transit in 2017 than in 2007.

By 2017, people who earned more than $75,000 a year were considerably more likely to take transit to work than people in any other income bracket.

Transit ridership has been declining since 2014, mostly because of the rise of ride-hailing companies such as Uber and Lyft. But few low-income commuters are likely to substitute Uber or Lyft for transit.

Source: Census Bureau

Instead, they are buying cars. Census data show that auto ownership continues to grow and now 96 percent of American workers live in a household with at least one car. Since so few workers lack cars, a small increase in auto ownership can mean a large decrease in the share of people who are dependent on transit.

A major reason low-income workers are turning away from transit is rising fares. In the last decade, average fares have risen from $1.09 to $1.56, growing 2.1 percent faster than inflation each year.

Commuting in 2017

The total number of American workers who usually commute by transit declined from 7.65 million in 2016 to 7.64 million in 2017. This continues a downward trend from 2015, when there were 7.76 million transit commuters. Meanwhile, the number of people who drove alone to work grew by nearly 2 million, from 114.77 million in 2016 to 116.74 million in 2017.

Commuting in 2017

The total number of American workers who usually commute by transit declined from 7.65 million in 2016 to 7.64 million in 2017. This continues a downward trend from 2015, when there were 7.76 million transit commuters. Meanwhile, the number of people who drove alone to work grew by nearly 2 million, from 114.77 million in 2016 to 116.74 million in 2017.

Census Data Detail Transit’s Decline

Transit ridership has been declining now for four years, and the latest census data, released last week, reveal that the biggest declines are among the groups that you might least expect: young people and low-income people. These results come from the American Community Survey, a survey of more than 3 million households a year conducted by the Census Bureau. Here are some of the key findings revealed by the data.

Young People Are Deserting Transit

Commuting in 2017

The total number of American workers who usually commute by transit declined from 7.65 million in 2016 to 7.64 million in 2017. This continues a downward trend from 2015, when there were 7.76 million transit commuters. Meanwhile, the number of people who drove alone to work grew by nearly 2 million, from 114.77 million in 2016 to 116.74 million in 2017.

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