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Transportation Trends from the Latest 5-year Census Data

Transportation Trends from the Latest 5-year Census Data

In addition to the well-known enumeration of the entire population it performs every decade, the US Census Bureau continuously surveys a portion of the nation’s residents via the American Community Survey (ACS). The ACS covers a variety of topics—employment,  education, living arrangements, health, housing, income, and ethnicity—including the timing, mode, etc. of the journey to work.

Although the Bureau publishes ACS data for Hampton Roads annually, a series of individual years is not a reliable dataset for finding trends for some variables, due to the inherent randomness from sampling only a portion of the population. 

Line Graph depicting Walking to Work in Hampton Roads

Consequently, when looking for trends, we often rely on ACS data grouped into five-year periods which represents a larger portion of the population and thus contains less randomness.  On March 17, 2022 the Census Bureau released data for the 2016-2020 period. 

One transportation-related measure from the ACS is travel time to work. The statistics for the three available five-year periods (new release plus two earlier periods) follows.

Bar graph depicting Mean Travel Time to Work, 15 HRTPO Localities, minutes

The data show that travel time to work has been increasing slightly in recent years for the 15 HRTPO localities:

  • Lower Peninsula
    • Hampton, James City, Newport News, Poquoson, Williamsburg, York
  • Middle Peninsula
    • Gloucester
  • Southside
    • Chesapeake, Franklin, Isle of Wight, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Southampton, Suffolk, Virginia Beach

A key transportation measure for policy makers is “mode choice”. The Census surveys the means that workers use to get to work.  The latest dataset shows that 79% of  workers drive alone, and that the largest alternative modes are carpooling, working from home, and walking.

Pie Chart depicting Mode of Choice for Work, 15 HRTPO Localities

To find mode choice trends, HRTPO staff compared the two earlier 5-year time periods available from the ACS (2006-2010 and 2011-2015) to the above 2016-2020 data.

Table Comparing Mode Choice for Work, 15 HRTPO Localities (source: ACS)

Mode Choice for Work, 15 HRTPO Localities (source: ACS)

Line Graph depicting Means of Transportation to Work, 15 HRTPO Localities

This data indicates a few interesting trends:

  • Carpooling has declined somewhat in recent years
  • Working at home increased fairly significantly
  • Walking to work increased somewhat
  • Public transportation usage has been fairly consistent

Even though 2020 represents only one year of the 2016-2020 period, the increase in the worked-from-home five-year statistic may reflect the new work habits of the first COVID year (2020).  COVID impacts will be seen more clearly when the Census Bureau releases the 2020 ACS and 2020 decennial data (release dates unknown).

The choice of travel mode is related to the options available. Persons who own a car or have access to one in their household often travel by car, whereas persons living in housing units with zero vehicles are often forced to travel by alternative means.

Bar Graph depicting Portion of Occupied Housing Units having Zero Vehicles, 15 HRTPO Localities

Note two things from this data:

  • Owning zero vehicles is much more prevalent in renter-occupied housing units than in those that are owner-occupied.
  • After declining for decades (18% in 1970, 9% in 2000), the portion of occupied housing units that have no vehicles showed very little change in recent years.

HRTPO staff will continue to use Census data to find various transportation trends as that data is released in the future. For more Census data see https://data.census.gov/cedsci/

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