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Monday, September 13, 2010

How Does Atlanta Compare on Public Transportation Use

Thought of a good idea for something to look up and write about today: how does Atlanta compare to other urban areas in terms of usage of public transportation and various other methods of commuting to work.

I am using urban areas (from the 2000 Census) because urban areas were defined by the Census Bureau in a fairly technical way.

Their reason for defining these urban areas were to avoid the imprecisions of using legally defined places in determining how many people live in an urban area. Using city limits obviously does not work (this makes, for instance, El Paso, Omaha, Fresno and Tucson seem larger than Miami).

The idea of metropolitan areas, which were created at least 60 years to try to address this problem, are better, but the use of legally defined places (counties) means that some rural areas in counties that qualify for being part of the metro area get counted.

The exact criteria used by the Census Bureau can be found in the Federal Register from March 15, 2002 and is quite technical and detailed (they tweaked things when empirical tests did not "look right"), but is probably about as good as it could be.

I am using data from the American Community Survey 2006-2008 3 year estimates (these are the most recent data available, and the 3 year combined estimates greatly reduce the error caused by low sample sizes).

Anyway, here is how Atlanta ranks among the 25 largest urban areas in the United States in terms of the transportation they use to get to work (using that form of transportation that takes them the longest distance):

Note that other means is anything not listed elsewhere on the table, but includes bicycles, motorcycles, taxicabs and everything that isn't in another category

Of the 25 urban areas, Atlanta ranks 10th in terms of percentage of workers who get to work by driving their car by themselves (76.1%). This, of course, is the least efficient and overall most expensive way to get to work, but it is unfortunately often most convenient. Those urban areas even worse in this category (i.e. a larger percentage get to work by driving their car by themselves) are, in order, Detroit (84.4%), St. Louis (81.8%), Cleveland (81.7%), Tampa (80.4%), Dallas-Fort Worth (79.6%), Miami (78.6%), San Jose (78.0%), Houston (77.5%) and Minneapolis-St. Paul (77.5%).

Atlanta's urban area ranked 15th in percentage using public transit (4.28%), ahead of Miami, San Jose, San Diego, St. Louis, Houston, Phoenix, Dallas-Fort Worth, Riverside-San Bernardino, Detroit and Tampa.

Atlanta's worst categories are percentage of people walking to work (1.52%), which places it 24th, ahead of only Dallas-Fort Worth (1.36%), and percentage of people who bicycle to work (this is my category, incidentally), where it places dead last (.14%), just behind Dallas-Fort Worth (.15%), meaning it also places 24th in percentage of people getting to work on their own personal power (1.66%), one of just 5 of the top 25 urban areas where less than 2% of people get to work on their own power, along with Dallas (1.52%), Detroit (1.79%), Houston (1.87%) and St. Louis (1.84%).

In only 8 of the top 25 urban areas do more than 4% get to work on their own power; Boston (5.85%), New York (6.75%), Philadelphia (4.43%), Pittsburgh (4.46%), Portland (5.18%), San Francisco-Oakland (6.88%), Seattle (4.49%) and Washington (4.04%).

With the exception of Pittsburgh, these are also the top 8 urban areas in terms of least percentage of people driving to work alone. Chicago (probably due to the freezing winters) has only 3.64% of people getting to work on their own power, but their high use of transit ranks them 6th in this category; Pittsburgh's relatively lower rankings in carpooling (15th), public transit (9th), and working at home (24th) push it to 12th in least driving alone, behind the aforementioned 8, Los Angeles, Baltimore, and Phoenix (with Phoenix's rate due to a rather high rate of carpooling)

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