Updated: Aug 16, 2020
Shout it from the Roof Top. Tell all your friends. Spread the news….Have I used enough clichés? Draft of the new Commuter Connections’ 2019 State of the Commute Survey Report, that was released last month, revealed some important findings.
The report found that “Drive-alone commuting continues to decrease, while alternative modes of transportation, including transit and telework, are on the rise among commuters in the D.C. region.” Before we get too excited, it also mentions that driving alone still continues to be the primary mode in the region. But the percentage of Single Occupied Vehicles (SOV) has dropped from 71 percent in 2004 to 58 percent in 2019.
Over the same period, transit use increased from 17 percent in 2004 to 24 percent in 2019. The major portion of the new percentage increase was Metrorail. The remainder was Commuter Rail at just over 1.5% and bus at just under 6%. Not surprisingly, telework almost tripled over the period and other modes such as carpooling, vanpooling and Bike/Pedestrian remained the same.
But this isn’t the only good news I recently heard about commuter options. Yes, there is more news.
First of all, I know what you’ll say next in response. You will shrug and say, “of course SOV usage is declining in the NOVA region. There are so many more commuting options available in metropolitan areas such as the DC region. But in suburban or more rural areas, the only options that are available to commuters are SOVs. People in rural areas don’t have access to anything like Metrorail or a robust bus service.”
Well, you would be wrong melon head. Sorry, I slipped into my Johnny Carson persona for a moment. Am I dating myself? I recently read an article that was more encouraging to me, in some ways, than the Commuter Connections draft report. A new vanpool program is being introduced in the Lynchburg area in Central Virginia. The program is set to launch sometime next year with the goal of providing an alternative transit method for employees who live 20 or more miles from their job.
What got this going? Well, in September, the Central Virginia Planning District Commission (CVPDC) received a $72,000 mobility grant from the Virginia Department of Rail and Public Transportation (DRPT) for a vanpool program for employees in the region who live farther than 20 miles from their work. DRPT provided 80% of the grant while CVPDC provides the other 20% — $18,000 over the next two years. The commission represents the city of Lynchburg and the counties of Amherst, Appomattox, Bedford and Campbell, VA. The grant helps to pay for fees associated with rental of the vans rather than the actual purchase.
From this article, it is clear that community and business leaders saw vanpools as a valuable commuter option for a region like Central Virginia because it can reduce employee costs while cutting down on congestion. They are especially helpful to a workforce that may have limited public transit options and to a region that has a number of companies that use shift work in its operation. In essence, decision makers determined that vanpools provide access to employment in the absence of other viable options, other than driving alone.
I commend the Central Virginia region for moving forward in this initiative. It goes to show that alternative commuting options aren’t unique to just urban areas. With a little innovative thinking and a little bit of funding, you can go a long way in addressing a transportation need in your community. You can rest assured that transportation challenges will continue to be an issue for decision makers and planners in both rural and urban areas, especially as populations get older and driving alone simply is not an option anymore.