- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 14, 2007


More people than ever are driving alone to work as the nation’s commuters balk at car pools and mass transit.

Regardless of fuel prices, housing and work patterns make it hard for suburban commuters to change their gas-guzzling ways.

From 2000 to 2005, the share of people driving alone to work increased slightly to 77 percent, according to a Census Bureau report yesterday. Carpooling dropped and the share of commuters using public transportation stayed the same.

More recent statistics — through March — show that few drivers are cutting back despite gasoline prices above $3 a gallon.

For most suburban commuters, “it’s very hard to find someone to ride with, and it’s very hard to find public transportation,” said Alan Pisarski, author of “Commuting in America.” “There aren’t always a lot of options for people.”

That’s the reason why Ali Smith, account coordinator for SpeakerBox Communications in McLean, said she drives to work alone. She said she doesn’t mind going it alone on her drive from Arlington to McLean, but it’s difficult to find someone going to a similar location.

“I don’t know if I trust people to pick me up on time, especially people I don’t know,” Ms. Smith said.

Cary Hatch, president and chief executive of MDB Communications Inc. in the District, said she prefers to drive alone. With phone calls and a BlackBerry to check, she said she needs to maintain complete concentration on her work while she drives from Potomac to 17th and K streets Northwest.

“I’m a talker. I have to be segregated so I can be productive,” she said.

Driving is the only option, since her business often requires the use of a car, Ms. Hatch added.

People have been flocking to the suburbs since the end of World War II. Jobs have followed, enabling commuters to move even farther from central cities — and public-transportation systems.

Mass transit is most popular in older cities such as New York, San Francisco, Washington and Chicago, according to the Census Bureau, with 13.2 percent of Washington-area residents taking Metro and other mass transit. Midwesterners are the most prone to solo driving — half of the top 10 metro areas for driving alone to work are in Ohio.

Tony Kotler, of the Kotler Marketing Group in the District, said he takes the Metro mainly for convenience. He said he could drive, but it would take about 25 minutes with traffic to get to his job at 15th and I streets Northwest. On the Metro, it takes about seven minutes to get there, he said.

“I just can’t stand the traffic in Washington,” he said.

Carpooling is most popular in the West, driven in part by immigrants. Seven of the top 10 metro areas for carpooling are in California. Most are in the center of the state, where many immigrant farmworkers share rides.

As for fuel prices, the average price of regular unleaded gasoline increased from $1.50 a gallon at the start of the decade to $2.28 a gallon in 2005, according to AAA.

During the same period, the share of people carpooling dropped from 12.2 percent to 10.7 percent. The nation’s public-transportation systems report that ridership is up, but the share of commuters using transit stayed the same at 4.7 percent, according to the Census Bureau.

Gasoline prices have since topped $3 gallon. Miles driven by Americans increased through 2006, though they leveled off in the first three months of 2007, the Federal Highway Administration says.

AAA spokesman Geoff Sundstrom said commuters are willing to drive more fuel-efficient autos but are loath to give up the keys entirely, regardless of gas prices. He said many people equate carpooling and mass transit with “a decline in their personal standard of living.”

“The freedom of mobility that comes with the use of a personal automobile is something we are very, very reluctant to give up as individuals.”

{bullet} Staff writer Adam Terese contributed to this report.



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