More People Commute to Work in Downtown Using a Means Other than Driving Alone

New Commute Seattle survey finds commute goal surpassed four years ahead of plan; forty percent of Downtown commuters now taking transit

The survey finds 35 percent of employees drive alone, surpassing Commute Seattle’s goal of reducing drive-alone trips into Downtown to 44 percent by 2015, and doing so four years ahead of plan.

The survey, conducted late last year by Gilmore Research Group, found that 65 percent of those who work in Downtown Seattle now commute by alternatives to driving alone. The top choice for those who work in Downtown Seattle is public transit (40%), followed by driving alone (35%) – an estimated 15 percentage point reduction in single-occupancy vehicles since 2000. The breakdown of other transportation modes is van/carpooling, 10 percent; walking, eight percent; cycling, three percent; and teleworking from home, four percent.

The results are promising for Commute Seattle, an alliance of the Downtown Seattle Association, King County Metro and Seattle Department of Transportation. Commute Seattle has focused its efforts for the past seven years on businesses and property owners, helping them develop commute programs for their Downtown-based employees.

Several Downtown businesses led the way with more than 85 percent of their employees not driving alone to work: Parsons Brinckerhoff, Expeditors, US Environmental Protection Agency, and United Way of King County.

“Downtown businesses are playing a large role in reducing drive-alone commute trips by investing in valuable employee commuter benefits such as free transit passes and improving bike amenities,” says Downtown Seattle Association President Kate Joncas. “A special thanks to these companies and many others who play an active role connecting their employees with the rich set of commute options in Downtown.”

In addition to its efforts to educate Downtown businesses and property owners, Commute Seattle also attributes other factors to the reduction of drive-alone commutes. These include significant infrastructure investments such as Link light rail, South Lake Union streetcar, King County Metro’s frequent transit service and the city’s investment in 113 miles of new bike lanes and sharrows. Other factors influencing travel patterns include commuter frustration with gridlock and gasoline prices, as well as people living closer to where they work.

“A thriving Center City needs a transportation system that gives people choices,” said Mayor Mike McGinn. “People like to live and work in places where they can walk, bike and ride transit. The study shows how important implementing Seattle’s pedestrian and bicycle master plans and completing the Transit Master Plan is, so Seattle has a transportation system that offers something for all users and helps attract and keep jobs.

“This study confirms the urgency of adequately funding bus service to meet the large and growing demand for transit,” says King County Executive Dow Constantine. “For the first time, more than half of all Downtown commuters are riding buses, light rail, commuter rail, ferries, bikes or carpools to get to work. King County Metro and Sound Transit provide affordable ways for residents from all parts of the county to get to jobs in Downtown Seattle.”

Downtown draws commuters from all over the region and they rely on a range of commute options. The study shows a correlation between commute choice and distance; the farther from Downtown a commuter lives the less likely they are to drive alone. Rail, vanpool and ferry passengers carry commuters the longest trip distance, an average around of 25 miles; bus, carpool and driving alone, an average of about 14 miles; bike, average of 6 miles; and walking nearly 2 miles.

“Clearly we’ve turned a corner here, but we need to reduce drive-alone commuting even further which we believe is possible with additional investments in public transit and infrastructure,” said Jamie Cheney, executive director of Commute Seattle. “This includes things like the funding of additional transit service, creation of additional bike lanes, extension of streetcar and light rail service, and enhancing transit reliability and frequency.”