As Seattle is entering the “period of maximum constraint,” with downtown becoming even more inundated with construction projects, more workers in that area are leaving their cars at home and riding transit.
Last year, the drive-alone rate hit an all-time low of 25% of downtown commuters, even as 15,000 jobs were added to the area, according to the 2017 Center City Modesplit Survey. Nearly half of downtown workers instead chose to take the bus or train to their jobs. Adding employees traveling by foot, bike or carpool pushes non-single-occupancy vehicle commute rates above 70%.
Despite a 5% drop in the share of SOV commuting between 2016 and 2017, the share of transit ridership grew by only 1%. Instead, some former drivers were choosing to walk or participate in a carpool.
“Transit works, and we need more of it as quickly as possible. From working with employers to increase telecommuting to speeding up light rail, we can expand our transportation options that make it easier and safer for Seattle residents to get around,” said Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan in the press release accompanying the report.
Rates of drive-alone downtown commuters have steadily declined since Commute Seattle began tracking travel trends in 2010. Over the last seven years, as 60,000 jobs were added in the downtown core — an increase of 30% — transit usage among commuters has steadily grown, up by 6%, while the drive-alone rate decreased 9%.
Commute Seattle attributes the decline in driving alone to the voter-approved $50M yearly transit investment from the Seattle Transportation Benefit District, efforts from employers to discourage driving alone and new housing downtown, enabling people to walk to work.
The Seattle Transportation Benefit District funds annually 270,000 hours of bus service for 68 Seattle bus routes to increase bus frequency and ease overcrowding.
The report also tracks transportation usage rates of employees working for businesses participating in Washington’s Commute Trip Reduction (CTR) program. The survey found the highest SOV commute rates were at employers located in the Uptown and First Hill neighborhoods, with over 35% of employees driving alone to work. Transit usage was highest in Seattle’s commercial core (62%); Pioneer Square (58%); and the Chinatown International District (58%).
Employees in South Lake Union working for CTR-participating companies had the highest walking rate, with 17% of employees commuting to work by foot. That’s far higher than Denny Triangle (13%) and Uptown (8%), which had the second- and third-highest rates of pedestrian commuting.
Beginning in 2006 Beginning in 1992, cities began adopting CTR ordinances which required employers with 100 or more full-time employees at a single worksite who begin workdays between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m. and are located in counties with populations of over 150,000 were required to participate in the CTR program.
The report found that over the last seven years, employees of businesses not participating in CTR shifted toward transit at a higher rate than employees at CTR-participating companies. Since 2010, transit ridership at companies not participating in CTR grew to 51% from 29%, while the transit ridership rate for employees at CTR-participating companies shrank to 46% from 53%. Most of those employees didn’t start driving alone, but rather switched to walking and biking.
Released Wednesday, this year’s modesplit survey was conducted by Commute Seattle, a non-profit that works with businesses to reduce drive-alone rates and is funded by SDOT and other organizations.