Americans Drive Solo to Work, Despite Long Delays and Rough Roads

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Patterns of people moving goods and services through our economy have changed drastically since the 1990s.

Since 1980, the US population grew by 43%, the same amount that vehicle miles traveled grew in rural areas. But the number of miles driven in urban areas grew by 163%. Vehicle registrations outgrew population, increasing 66% over the same period.

Americans overwhelmingly commute to work alone in cars, with three-quarters (76.4%) of the estimated 153 million people going to work every morning in America driving solo (Fig. 122). Though driving (including carpools) as a share of all commuting shrank a few percentage points since the early nineties, there was a net increase of 39 million people using vehicles to get to work since 1993. In 2017, just 5% took public transit, and nearly 3% walked or bicycled. 

Working from home is becoming more common. From 2007 to 2017, people reporting to work from home increased from 5.7 million to 8 million, a 40% increase.

Roughly half of all urban collectors (roads with speed limits of 35-55 miles per hour) traveled some 223 billion miles in 2017 were rated as unacceptably bumpy by a measure of road roughness (Fig. 120). One-quarter of urban arterials, traveled some 1.1 trillion miles by urban drivers in 2017 with speed limits of 50-70 miles, were rated unacceptable. This urban road trend has held steady for the last decade. Rural roads remain in better shape than urban ones. Conversely, bridges have seen a significant decrease in structural deficiencies over time.

Since the 1990s, delays per commuter have increased, reaching a peak just before 2009. As of 2014, delays remained relatively level at 42 hours per commuter (Fig. 121).