Census Bureau: Only 5% of American Workers Commute on Public Transit

Terence P. Jeffrey | April 7, 2021 | 2:34pm EDT
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(Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)
(Photo by Michael Nagle/Getty Images)

(CNSNews.com) - Only 5 percent of the Americans who worked in 2019 got to work using public transportation, according to a newly released study from the U.S. Census Bureau.

By contrast, 84.8 percent got to work in a car, truck or van that was not operated by the government; and 75.9 percent were driving alone when they did so.

The use of public transit for commuting was heavily concentrated in the New York metropolitan area.

In fact, the number of workers who commuted by public transit in the New York metro area in 2019 was more than five times larger than its nearest competitor—the Chicago metro area.

In 2019, there were 3,000,640 commuters in the New York metro area who took public transit. By contrast, there were only 584,804 in the second-ranked Chicago metro area; and 461,832 in the third-ranked San Francisco metro area. The Washington, D.C. metro area ranked fourth with 440,972 commuters using public transit.

Together, the 4,452,248 commuters who used public transit in the New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington metro areas equaled 57 percent of all public transit commuters in the country.

Outside, the New York, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington metro areas, only 2 percent of workers (3,290,196 of 156,941,346) commuted by public transit.

Since 1960, the percentage of Americans using public transit to commute to work has been more than cut in half.

“When the Census Bureau first collected information about work travel in the 1960 Census, 12.1 percent of workers reported traveling by public transportation,” said the bureau’s report. “Over the next decade, this figure would decline to 8.9 percent, to 6.4 percent in 1980, and to 5.3 percent in 1990. The 2000 Census reported a historical low of 4.7 percent of workers commuting by public transportation. Since then, the share of workers commuting by public transportation has hovered around 5 percent.”  

More Americans actually commuted to work by riding in a taxi than by riding in a public transit light rail car, streetcar or trolley in 2019. That year, according to the Census Bureau, 385,756 worker commuted by taxi and 242,776 did so by light rail, streetcar or trolley.

In total, 156,941,346 people worked in America in 2019, according to the Census report. The largest number of these—133,054,328—got to work in a car, truck or van. Of these, 119,153,349 drove lone and 13,900,979 carpooled with others.

Public transit attracted a nationwide total of only 7,778,444 commuters. Of these, 3,601,403 commuted by bus; 2,935,633 commuted by subway or elevated train; 921,391 commuted by long-distance train or commuter rail; 242,776 commuted by light rail, streetcar, or trolley; and 77,241 commuted by ferryboat.

Workers who walked to work numbered 4,153,050. Those who bicycled equaled 805,722. Those who motorcycled equaled 221,923; and those who took a taxi equaled 385,756.

More than a million and a half people—1,571,323—to some other means to work; and 8,970,800 worked from home in 2019 (before the COVID-19 pandemic).

The numbers in this Census Bureau report were derived from the bureau’s American Community Survey.

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