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Transportation

Downtown Austin Commuters Mostly Drive Alone To Work. Some Business Leaders Want To Change That.

Pedestrians cross the street in downtown Austin.
Jorge Sanhueza-Lyon
/
KUT

A local transportation group hopes a first-of-its-kind study encourages fewer employees to drive alone to work in downtown Austin.

The survey, released Wednesday morning, found that 60% of downtown commuters drive alone to work every day, compared to the citywide average of 74%. The city's goal, outlined in the Austin Strategic Mobility Plan released last year, is 50% of commuters driving alone by 2039.

“In different parts of the city, people have different motivations for driving alone," said Melinda Villagran, director of the Translational Health Research Initiative at Texas State University, which partnered with the transportation group Movability to conduct the survey.

"So the solutions are not going to be simple in that way," she said. "We have to take into account some of the motivations people have for choosing to drive to work as opposed to choosing other forms of transportation.”

The survey tracked more than 600 commuters daily for 30 days. It found that 16% of downtown commuters use transit, 7% ride bikes and 6% use some form of carpool.

Villagran said the survey’s findings indicate that a 10-mile distance from work seems to be a marker in whether employees drive or find other ways to commute.

“That could be because there’s not a critical mass of people who live around them to commute with and they might not have as many options,” she said. “But this is an important piece of the traffic snarl we see in downtown Austin every day.”

Movability says it wants to use the findings to encourage employers to offer options to workers such as transit passes, flexible hours and teleworking. 

“If everybody would just work from home one day a week that would eliminate 20 percent of the traffic,” said Lisa Kay Pfannenstiel, Movability's executive director. " It's very holistic, with very little effort by individuals.”

Some Austin employers, like Facebook, report that they've already reached the goal of having only half of their employees drive to work alone.

“It’s going to be something that we, as business leaders, have to step up and bring solutions around,” said Katherine Shappley, vice president and head of Facebook Austin. “This is about maintaining what makes Austin special, and traffic congestion is a very real challenge for our city.”

Villagran said long driving commutes can also impact a person's wellbeing: Survey respondents who had longer commutes reported being more stressed and eating more fast food.

The study found that those who live in the 78759 ZIP code in Northwest Austin were most likely to drive to work, while those in the 78704 ZIP code south of the river were most like to walk to work. People who commute to downtown Austin from Leander were found to be most likely to use transit.

Got a tip? Email Samuel King at samuel@kut.org. Follow him @SamuelKingNews.

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