Fewer commuters in the Washington, D.C., area are driving to work alone, although it remains the most common method of commuting, especially in outer areas such as Frederick County, according to a survey conducted by a regional transportation group.
Commuters who drive to work by themselves made up 58 percent of the respondents to the 2019 State of the Commute survey done by the Commuter Connections program of the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board. The planning board is part of the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.
The percentage of people who drive alone is down from nearly 67 percent in 2007. The survey results note, however, that the number of solo commuters is significantly higher in outer parts of the region such as Frederick County compared with Washington and its inner suburbs.
In the outer suburbs of Frederick, Calvert, Charles, Loudoun and Prince William counties, 75 percent of commuters drove alone, compared with 37 percent of commuters in the District of Columbia, Alexandria and Arlington.
The rate of commuters driving alone was 64 percent in the middle areas of Montgomery, Prince George’s and Fairfax counties.
While some commuting options are available in the outer suburbs, such as MARC trains, carpooling or vans, access to mass transit isn’t as available in those areas, said Nicholas Ramfos, director of the Commuter Connections program.
But the good news is that the infrastructure is there for people to take advantage of it if they’d like to, Ramfos said.
The number of Frederick County residents who leave the county to get to their jobs makes the survey particularly relevant for local residents.
According to 2018 statistics from the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation, nearly 24 percent of county residents work in Montgomery County, along with under 4 percent each in Howard, Washington and Baltimore counties.
Only 2.7 percent of Frederick County residents work in D.C., along with 5.8 percent in Virginia, 1.7 percent in Pennsylvania, and 1.2 percent in West Virginia.
Among people who work in Frederick County, 8.6 percent come from Washington County, 8.1 percent from Montgomery County, 4.3 percent from Carroll County and 3.1 percent from Baltimore County.
There was one area where there was some growth. The percentage of people who use transit increased 4 percent from the last survey in 2016, from 20 percent to 24 percent, according to the survey.
More than 16 percent of that number was on either Metrorail or commuter rail, while nearly 6 percent was by bus.
Ben Ross, chairman of the statewide Maryland Transit Opportunities Coalition, said he believes that while an increase in transit riders is the trend, the survey may have captured the way people prefer to travel more than the way they actually do.
The 2016 survey was also taken when Metro was at the low point of its ridership numbers, Ross said, but he’s encouraged that the numbers are going up, and by what that might mean.
“I think the real message is, there is a thirst for traveling on transit,” Ross said.
The region is out of balance with its transportation system, he said, and more transit needs to be added to even it out.
“It’s like a hamster running on a wheel. You never get anywhere,” he said.
Along with the use of driving and transit, telecommuting remained the same in 2019 as in 2016, at 9.7 percent.
While the average of about 1.2 days per week spent telecommuting was the same, that amount still helps with reducing road congestion in the region, Ramfos said.
According to the survey, the number of commuters who said their jobs were not compatible with telecommuting has dropped significantly over the years, from 51 percent in 2007 to 34 percent in 2019.
The distance of the average commute in 2019 was 17.1 miles, compared with 17.3 miles in 2016, but the average commute time increased by four minutes, to 43 minutes.