Solo Commuting Climbs, Carpooling Plummets

Published November 11, 2011

Solo automobile commuting reached an all-time record high in the United States in 2010, increasing by 7.8 million commuters. Carpooling showed huge losses, and the largest gain was in working at home, including telecommuting.

Transit and bicycling also added commuters. This continues many of the basic trends toward more personalized employment access that we have seen since 1960.

Solo Automobile Commuting

Among the nation’s 51 metropolitan areas with more than 1 million population, 38 experienced increases in solo automobile commuting between 2000 and 2010. More than 80 percent of commuting is by solo automobile in 25 of the 51 largest metropolitan areas, with the highest rates in Birmingham, Detroit, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and Kansas City.

Another 28 metropolitan areas have single automobile commute shares of between 70 percent and 80 percent, with Boston, Washington, and San Francisco between 60 percent and 70 percent. The lowest solo automobile commute share was in New York at 51 percent.

Car Pooling

The national data showed a nearly 2.4 million loss in carpool use.

The losses were pervasive, occurring in all 51 metropolitan areas. Riverside-San Bernardino, California, had the highest carpool market share at just under 15 percent. All other major metropolitan areas were below 12 percent.

Car pools have been losing market share for decades.

Working at Home (Includes Telecommuting)

The nation experienced a 1.7 million increase in working at home over the past decade. The market share gains in working at home were as pervasive as the losses in carpooling, with all 51 metropolitan areas registering increases.

Austin had the strongest work-at-home market share, at 7.3 percent, followed by Portland at 6.5 percent, San Francisco and Denver at 6.2 percent, Phoenix at 6.0 percent, and San Diego, Raleigh, and Atlanta above 5.5 percent.

Overall, working at home exceeded transit commuting in 37 major metropolitan areas out of 51 in 2010, up from 27 in 2000. Three metropolitan areas had work at home market shares of less than 3 percent, including Memphis, New Orleans, and last place Buffalo.


Transit enjoyed its first 10 year-gain since journey-to-work data was first collected by the Census Bureau 50 years ago. Overall, transit added 900,000 daily commuters, roughly half the gain among telecommuters.

Transit’s market share increased in 25 of the top 51 metropolitan areas. It is also notable that in a number of the metropolitan areas with the largest expenditures for new rail systems, there were either losses or commuting gains were concentrated in the more flexible bus services.

New York

As so often has been the case, transit was largely a “New York story.” More than one half of the new transit commuters were in the New York metropolitan area, more than 450,000 of the 900,000 increase.

New York boasts by far the most extensive transit system in the nation, which serves the second-largest central business district in the world and by far the nation’s most important.

In 2000, New York had a transit work trip market share of 27.4 percent. By 2010, New York’s transit work trip market share had risen to 30.7 percent, more than double that of any other metropolitan area. More than 70 percent of the new transit commuters in the New York area were on its subway (Metro), suburban rail, and light rail systems.

San Francisco

San Francisco retained its position as the second-strongest transit metropolitan area, with a 14.6 percent work trip market share in 2010, up from 13.8 percent in 2000.

Washington, DC

Washington, DC was the third-strongest transit commuting market, with a 14.0 percent work trip market share in 2010. This modest increase from 13.4 percent nonetheless produced the second-largest ridership increase in the nation, more than 130,000.

This reflects the strength of Washington’s job market over the decade. Rail ridership accounted for 53 percent of this increase; buses accounted for the other 47 percent.

Boston and Chicago

Boston passed Chicago to become the fourth-strongest transit market, at 11.8 percent in 2010. This is an increase from 11.2 percent in 2000. Chicago ranked fifth at 11.2 percent, a small reduction from the 11.3 percent in 2000.

Los Angeles

Los Angeles had the third largest increase in transit commuting, adding 60,000 daily transit commuters. Approximately 75 percent of these new commuters were attracted by the region’s extensive bus system as opposed to its very expensive but limited rail system.

This increase placed Los Angeles in a virtual tie with Portland, with a work trip market share of 6.2 percent.


Portland, Oregon continued to experience its now 30-year transit market share erosion, despite having added three new light rail lines between 2000 and 2010.

Portland’s transit work trip market share fell to 6.2 percent from 6.3 percent and now trails the work-at-home and telecommute market share of 6.5 percent.


Seattle added 29,000 new transit commuters, for the fourth strongest growth in the nation. Approximately 75 percent of the new commuters were on the metropolitan area’s bus system.


Atlanta, home to the third-largest postwar Metro system in the nation (MARTA), gained nearly 9,000 new transit commuters, all of them on the bus, while losing more than 3,000 rail commuters.


Miami added 16,000 new transit commuters, though more than 90 percent were attracted to the bus system rather than the rail services.

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