Census director to visit Atlanta, offer ideas on using commute data in transportation decisions

By David Pendered

The director of the U.S. Census is to visit Atlanta Wednesday to talk with local transportation officials about how commuting data collected by the Census could inform policy decisions about transportation needs, according to an alert from the Census.

Traffic, Buckhead

Census data on commuting could inform discussions in Atlanta and Fulton County as officials plan projects for upcoming transportation referendums. Credit: David Pendered

The conversation is to occur just over six months before Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed intends to ask Atlanta voters to agree to an additional half-percent sales tax over the next 40 years to fund the expansion of MARTA.

Right off the bat, the Census can provide a wealth of data on transit usage. Three numbers that should factor into any discussion of expanding transit in the city are commute times, income of commuters, and whether the commuter owns or rents a residence.

While the following figures are for greater metro Atlanta, they can be parsed to show patterns in very small geographic regions, right down to Census blocks – the smallest geographic unit used by the Census.

For starters, transit riders in greater metro Atlanta face commutes almost twice as long as a commuter who drives alone, according to figures in the 2014 American Community Survey, the latest annual population estimates program conducted by the Census.

The mean transit commute takes 56.3 minutes. The mean trip time for a solo driver is 30.5 minutes. The mean trip time for a carpooler is 32 minutes, results show.

Employed people in metro Atlanta seem to shift from transit to a car, van or truck when earnings for the prior year reach $25,000.

Transit usage falls from 12.6 percent percent of riders, who earn at least $25,000 a year, to 4.4 percent among riders who earn at least $65,000 a year. Then usage jumps up, to 11 percent of transit riders who earn $75,000 a year or more.

In terms of home ownership, the survey confirms expectations.

John Thomas

John Thomas

Of commuters who drive alone, 67.4 percent own their residence. Of carpoolers, 54.3 percent own their residence. Of transit riders, 36.1 percent own their residence.

This sort of data is valuable when it comes to policy discussions around the proposed expansion of MARTA in the city of Atlanta. Taken to the Census block level, the data could inform the discussion over where money spent on building a train tracks or streetcar could have the greatest impact, in terms of improving mobility and reducing smog-producing traffic congestion.

This is the type of information Census Bureau Director John Thompson is slated to discuss at a roundtable discussion with members of the Atlanta Regional Commission and local transportation officials.

The meeting at ARC headquarters is scheduled for Wednesday morning, according to an alert the Census released Thursday.

According to the alert:

  • “Commuting data can tell both Atlanta leaders and residents how people use modes of transportation such as car traffic, the MARTA bus and rail line, the Downtown Loop streetcar line that opened in 2014, and the multiuse BeltLine trail, which is under development.”

The highlight on the Census’ ACS on commute patterns in the greater Atlanta area confirms the obvious: The vast majority of workers drive alone to work.

Metro Atlanta has an estimated 2.6 million workers and of these workers:

  • 2 million drive alone in a car truck or van;
  • 267,459 carpool in a car, truck or van;
  • 80,640 use public transportation, excluding taxicab.

 

David Pendered, Managing Editor, is an Atlanta journalist with more than 30 years experience reporting on the region’s urban affairs, from Atlanta City Hall to the state Capitol. Since 2008, he has written for print and digital publications, and advised on media and governmental affairs. Previously, he spent more than 26 years with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and won awards for his coverage of schools and urban development. David graduated from North Carolina State University and was a Western Knight Center Fellow. David was born in Pennsylvania, grew up in North Carolina and is married to a fifth-generation Atlantan.

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