Where’s my transit revolution? Today’s infuriating commuting numbers from the ACS

Ok, so the answer to the question I pose is, inevitably: we haven’t spent enough on transit yet. However, the mode choice numbers in a report this morning from the American Community Survey discourage and, since I don’t take being discouraged very well, infuriate.

Let’s take a look at some of the graphics:

Voila Capture45

Blargh! WHAT? WE’RE TALKING FIVE DECADES OF TRANSIT INVESTMENT AND THE MODE SHARE AND COUNTS HAVEN’T CHANGED HARDLY AT ALL? WHA? WHAT DO YOU PEOPLE WANT?! “Wah wah wah I don’t liiiiiiiiiike buses. I neeeeeeeed light rail plunked down all over hell and gone just like Europe. THEN I’ll stop driving.”

We’ve done our part. We’ve built rail line after rail line after rail line. We’ve been condemning sprawl since the 1980s, advocating for denser residential patterns since roughly the same time. Living in the suburbs in our popular media is treated as the moral equivalent of being fat or smoking. DAVID FREAKING BYRNE IS WRITING ABOUT HOW COOL IT IS TO BIKE IN CITIES FER CRYIN’ OUT LOUD. We’ve romanticized places like New York and Portland. WHAT’S IT GONNA TAKE, PEOPLE?

With mode shares, the percentage taking transit masks the fact that more people are taking transit in 2009 than in 1960, but still. In reality, this time period reflects a changing geographic distribution of the US population where, yes, people left the precious central city for the suburbs (something that doesn’t seem to have hurt NYC-NJ transit one little bit, BTW), but people also left rural areas for metropolitan areas. These numbers should be shifting simply by virtue of that phenomenon.

So that graphic shows the commute counts. Maybe commutes just aren’t shifting and we’d see a different story from 1960 to 2010 if we had leisure travel here.

Voila Capture46

So transit operators should advocate for open borders because immigrants are good customers.

This last one may be too hard to see. The report is freely available (until the Republicans decide to shut down the Census), so go look at the report.

Voila Capture47

Thirty years ago in public transit, there was NYC, and then there was everybody else. Today, apparently, it’s still NYC and everybody else.

I don’t see happy things ahead in terms of changing these numbers, especially with big systems like BART reducing frequencies, even with higher gas prices.

Blargh. Bad way to start my day.

5 thoughts on “Where’s my transit revolution? Today’s infuriating commuting numbers from the ACS

  1. It’s nice sometimes to see our numbers make an impact, even if it’s just to ruin your day ;).

  2. Where does one find mode share information for trips besides the trip to work? Those numbers might be just as unfavorable to transit, but they would be really interesting to see.

    It’s relatively easy to get the ACS commuting figures so they tend to become THE figures. You know?

  3. The National Household Transportation Survey comes out every now and then and offers data that — with some serious work — can be used to derive mode splits for geographic places. It covers surface travel in all modes for all purposes. Read all about it at http://nhts.ornl.gov/index.shtml

    I haven’t seen any mode split analysis for individual geographic places lately from the most recent (2009) version of NHTS.

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