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Census says commute time in metro Atlanta up 30 seconds in seven years, transit usage dips

MARTA ridership, 2017

The latest ridership report from MARTA shows the number of passengers who use the system is not as high as was forecast for the current fiscal year. Credit: itsmarta.com

By David Pendered

The typical one-way commute time between home and work in metro Atlanta has grown by 30 seconds in the seven-year period ending in 2016, according to the latest report from the U.S Census Bureau. The proportion of workers who commuted by public transit declined during the period in Fulton and DeKalb counties, the core of MARTA’s service district, the report showed.

SaportaReport compiled these figures from data provided in the American Community Survey, which was released Dec. 7. The ACS reports data in five-year cycles, and this cycle goes back to 2012. The ACS websites provide data going back to 2009.

The ACS tracks commute times in metropolitan statistical areas. Atlanta is the heart of the Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell MSA.

At 31 minutes, the Atlanta region has the eighth-longest one-way commute time reported by the ACS. The longest commute is reported in East Stroudsburg, Pa., a town of nearly 10,000 residents in the Poconos resort area, west of New York City. The New York City region ranked second, at 35.9 minutes, followed by third-place Washington metro area with a commute time of 34.4 minutes.

Here’s the snapshot of the mean one-way commute time in metro Atlanta for workers who are 16 years or older, and who didn’t work at home:

Year – Minutes

  • 2016 – 31.0
  • 2015 – 30.7
  • 2014 – 30.4
  • 2013 – 30.3
  • 2012 – 30.4
  • 2011 – 30.5
  • 2010 – 30.6
  • 2009 – 30.5
MARTA ridership, 2017

The latest ridership report from MARTA shows the number of passengers who use the system is not as high as was forecast for the current fiscal year. Credit: itsmarta.com

In each year, the margin of error was +/- 0.1.

The percentage of workers aged 16 years and over who traveled to work on public transit other than a taxi declined during the seven-year period in two metro Atlanta counties, according to the ACS reports.

Here’s a snapshot of the reports for Fulton and DeKalb counties, the core of MARTA’s service district:

Fulton County

Year – % of workers – Margin of error

  • 2016 – 7.2 – 0.3
  • 2015 – 7.0 – 0.3
  • 2014 – 7.2 – 0.4
  • 2013 – 7.3 – 0.4
  • 2012 – 7.4 – 0.3
  • 2011 – 7.6 – 0.4
  • 2010 – 8.0 – 0.4
  • 2009 – 8.7 – 0.5

DeKalb County

Year – % of workers – Margin of error           

  • 2016 – 7.9 – 0.4
  • 2015 – 8.1 – 0.4
  • 2014 – 8.2 – 0.4
  • 2013 – 8.2 – 0.5
  • 2012 – 8.2 – 0.4
  • 2011 – 8.3 – 0.5
  • 2010 – 8.2 – 0.4
  • 2009 – 8.1 – 0.4

Clayton County voters approved a referendum to join MARTA and bus service started March 21, 2015. Previously the C-TRAN bus system had served the county, but it was mothballed in 2010 as county coffers shrank during the fallout of the Great Recession.

Here’s the snapshot of Clayton bus ridership during the relevant years:

Year – % of workers – Margin of error           

  • 2016 – 2.6 – 0.4
  • 2015 – 2.3 – 0.4
  • 2010 – 3.5 – 0.6
  • 2009 – 3.5 – 0.4

MARTA’s latest ridership report shows that the ridership forecast has exceeded the number of actual riders in every month going back to September 2016.

The biggest variance in forecast and actual ridership dates to May, when the I-85 bridge reopened after it collapsed in March. The variance was 1.9 million riders, or about 15 percent of the projection for the month.

MARTA had set its ridership forecast long before the bridge collapsed. MARTA forecast that ridership would rise during the summer months of this year. However, ridership actually declined during the summer, according to MARTA’s report.

Ridership in this report is defined as a trip on a bus, train, or Mobility van. Passengers are counted each time they board a vehicle. A trip that involves a ride on a bus and a train counts as two trips.



David Pendered

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.


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  1. Sally Flocks December 11, 2017 11:07 am

    This data would be far more valuable if it also provided information on changes in the average distance between where people live and where they work. Given the increase in population in the region during the past 7 years, the 30 second increase in average commute time is far less than I would have expected. Did this occur because people have adapted to congestion by moving closer to their places of employment? Or because they use managed lanes or different work hours?Report

    1. David December 12, 2017 2:46 pm

      Hello, Sally,
      You raise significant points. The Census did not interpret the data. Some of the very good analysts in our region likely are considering these very points. We’ll be watching for the reports.

  2. Chris Johnston December 11, 2017 12:28 pm

    The number of potential MARTA riders increases while the number of MARTA riders decreases. This is plain evidence that MARTA is not in touch with its ridership. A light rail line to Emory won’t cure this problem.Report


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