The Morning Commute for Oregon Workersby Gail KrumenauerPublished Nov-23-2010
Oregon workers spent a combined total of 35.2 million minutes traveling to their jobs in 2009. That's down from 36.8 million minutes spent on the one-way trip to work in 2007. As employment levels dropped off from their peak in 2007, the Census Bureau
's American Community Survey
numbers show a corresponding drop (-65,000) in the total number of workers commuting in Oregon between 2007 and 2009. The reduction in work travelers and aggregate time commuting generally hasn't translated to a drop in travel time per commuter; the average minutes each Oregonian spent en route to work remained stable from 2007 to 2009. The only notable change in the post-recession
commuter experience has been the mode of transportation used to get to work.
Earlier Departure, Longer Commute
In 2009, three-fourths of Oregon workers departed from home between midnight and 8:59 a.m. Within this commuter group, the largest share (18.5%) began their journey to work between 7:00 a.m. and 7:29 a.m. (Graph 1
). The second most popular departure time for workers was between 7:30 a.m. and 7:59 a.m. (18.2%). Although they constitute over one third of morning work travelers, these two commuter groups did not experience the longest daily travel time. Oregonians departing for work between 7:30 a.m. and 7:59 a.m. actually experienced the second shortest average commute time, 19.1 minutes. Workers leaving later - between 8:30 a.m. and 8:59 a.m. - had the shortest travel time to work (17.1 minutes), while the early risers who began their commute between 5:00 a.m. and 5:29 a.m. traveled for the longest time on average (28.9 minutes).
Both the departure time and minutes spent traveling to work could be due to the distance traveled, the mode of transportation used, or the traffic congestion at the location within the state for the commuter group. Unfortunately, the Census survey does not provide insight for the reasons behind departure times or minutes spent traveling.
Fewer Workers, Same Commuting Time
Despite the drop from 2007 to 2009 in the number of commuters, departure times and minutes spent traveling during the morning commute remained consistent. The share of morning commuters leaving home between 7:00 a.m. and 7:59 a.m. (37.7%) were the most prevalent statewide in 2007, as they were in 2009 (36.7%). Individually, all morning commuter groups departing between midnight and 8:59 a.m. saw a change of less than 1 percentage point in their share of total daily commuters.
Since the overall decline in morning commuters totaled just 5 percent between 2007 and 2009, and the share of workers commuting in each time category stayed generally steady, it's not surprising that Oregon workers saw little difference in the minutes they spent traveling on the morning commute. The only significant change in minutes spent commuting occurred in the early and late morning time periods. Oregonians who began their journey to work between midnight and 4:59 a.m. saw a decline of 1.6 minutes on average; travelers leaving home between 5:00 a.m. and 5:29 a.m. saw an average increase of 1.3 minutes, and those departing between 8:00 a.m. and 8:29 a.m. faced 1.1 additional minutes traveling.
Same Old Ride?
For those driving to work, there also seems to be little change in the vehicle used to get there. Oregon law requires that all brand new passenger vehicles and motorcycles receive an initial four-year registration when issuing license plates. Between 2007 and 2009, Oregon Department of Transportation numbers show a 44.3 percent decline in issuance among these new vehicles. Overall passenger car plate issuance declined by 26.1 percent, and plates issued for all motorcycles dropped by 23.0 percent.
Some commuters are mixing up their morning route. The modes of transportation workers used shifted noticeably between 2007 and 2009. Carpooling by car, truck, or van declined by 11.0 percent, and driving alone dropped off by 4.5 percent (Graph 2). At the same time, alternative forms of transportation were on the rise. The share of Oregonians who commuted to work by taxi, motorcycle, bike, or on foot increased by 9.6 percent. The share of commuters who used public transportation also rose (5.9%).
Why No Noticeable Shift?
The reasons why the morning commute was essentially unchanged despite the drop in commuters remain elusive. The trend might be explained in part by the distribution of worker departure times. The bulk of commuter declines occurred in the 6:00 a.m. to 7:59 a.m. departure times. Since these are already the heaviest traffic periods, the decline has less impact. Other potential reasons could include the shift times associated with industries where jobs were lost, or workers who may have accepted positions that required greater travel times. In addition, workers who shifted from using a personal vehicle to public transportation could potentially experience an increase in their travel time.