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Four reasons why we're carpooling less

Thursday - 5/16/2013, 2:54pm  ET

Transit use is up among commuters, as is biking, walking and working from home. It would appear, based on statistics released Wednesday by the National Capital Region Transportation Planning Board, that Washington-area workers are ditching the single occupant vehicles for alternative ways to the office.

Alas, the carpool is not one of them.

Between 2000 and 2011, the period studied for the Changes in Regional Commuter Patterns report, carpooling fell “significantly,” from 13 percent to 9.7 percent. The only commute mode to shift more over those 11 years was transit, which rose from 11.8 percent to 15.4 percent.

Wouldn’t mind-numbing congestion and the option of using HOV lanes on Interstate 95 or I-66 in Virginia or Route 50 in Maryland suggest more people piling into cars together, rather than less?

Well, they’re finding ways around congestion, just not in carpools.

Robert Griffiths, director of technical services with the Metropolitan Washington Council of Government’s Department of Transportation Planning, offered four possible reasons for the decline in carpooling.

Reason 1, the subsidy: Carpoolers are not eligible for the $240 per month federal transit benefit, Griffiths said. Between 2000 and 2011, as that subsidy amount increased, the carpooling share among federal employees dropped from 18 percent to 10 percent, while transit use among federal workers soared from 19 to 28 percent. Roughly 80 percent of federal employees are offered the subsidy.

Carpooling among private sector employees, meanwhile, dropped much less — from 12 percent to 10 percent. That $240 is having a major impact.

Reason 2, expanded transit: As the area’s local governments have launched and bolstered their own bus services — Fairfax Connector, Loudoun County Transit, PRTC, Montgomery County’s Ride On — commuters are able to reach more locations through a variety of transit services and connections. There are far more options now, and workers are taking advantage.

Reason 3, work schedules: Just as transit has grown more flexible, so have work schedules. It’s not a 9-5 day anymore for many, and carpooling, Griffiths said, by its very nature calls for a consistency among a group of people. “To maintain a regular carpool does require workers to have the same start time, end time, to live near one another," he said.

Reason 4, telecommuting: In the same vein as flexible schedules, many people aren’t even going to a job site anymore — they stay home once or twice a week, or more. According to COG’s 2010 State of the Commute report, a quarter of regional commuters said they telecommute at least occasionally. The number of telecommuters doubled between 2001 and 2010, from 300,000 to 600,000. According to the report released Wednesday, the number of people working primarily from home increased by 45,000 between 2000 and 2011.

© 2013 American City Business Journals, Inc.