Transit ridership is plummeting almost everywhere, yet officials in many cities are still devising hugely expensive plans for transit projects. One such city is Austin, whose leaders are talking about spending between $6 billion and $10.5 billion on new transit lines (and the final cost always ends up being more than the projections).
The need for these plans is contradicted by the rapid decline in transit ridership in Austin. Census data show that, despite a 59 percent increase in the number of workers in the last decade, the number of Austin-area employees who rely on transit to get to work has declined by more than 10 percent.
This post will take a close look at these census data and show how you can find similar data for your region. This is the first of two posts on this subject; the next one will look at Department of Transportation data.
Since 2005, the Census Bureau has sent an annual questionnaire to about 3.5 million households a year asking, among other things, how those who have jobs in those households get to work. Known as the American Community Survey, these data can be downloaded for just about any geographic area – state, county, city, metropolitan area, urban area, congressional district, or zip code, though the Census Bureau doesn’t post data for smaller areas since they may not be statistically accurate.
Data from every year from 2005 to 2017 can be downloaded from the American FactFinder web site. However, starting in July, the agency is transitioning to a new web site called data.census.gov. I’ve already downloaded all of the tables that will be mentioned in this post and posted them, with some enhancements such as calculations of percentages, for you to use.
Transit’s Share of Commuting
The first question is how many people in the Austin urban area commute to work by transit and whether that number is growing or shrinking. This can be answered with table B08103, “means of transportation to work.” I’ve downloaded these data for the nation, states, counties, cities (or, in Census Bureau nomenclature, “places”), and urbanized areas and put them in one file for 2017 and, for comparison, a second file for 2007.
Between 2007 and 2017, transit’s share of commuting decline by more than 40 percent, and the number of commuters using transit fell by more than 11 percent.