Midtown News Center

Trend: Even Before COVID-19, Midtown Workers Are Driving to Work a Lot Less

Published: 6/4/2020

The world seems to have changed a lot in the past few years, and even more in the past few months. In Midtown, that means steady decreases in the share of commuters getting to work by driving in their car alone, and an increase in the usage of alternatives to driving alone.  

Every few years, the Atlanta Regional Commission (ARC) puts out a regional commuter survey, asking commuters about how they get to work and why. As the ARC recently released their Midtown-specific results from the 2019 regional survey, we decided to take a look back at the results from the last survey in 2014 and see how conditions have changed since then—plus, reflect on what the future of commuting might mean in Midtown. 

Over the past five years, Midtown has announced more than 21K new jobs within the district, along with nearly 7,500 residential units. But Midtown commuters are driving alone less often. From 2014 to 2019, the percentage of commute trips made by driving alone decreased from 68% to 61%, while more and more Midtown commuters are choosing alternatives like transit, biking, and telework. Transit trips have increased - train or bus commute trips grew from 15% in 2014 to 20% in 2019 - as have many Midtown Alliance programs that support transit:

  • In 2019, Midtown Transportation's discounted transit pass program sold a record 100K transit passes to employers in Midtown. 
  • The team has worked with a growing number of Midtown employers to develop commuter strategies to encourage workers to explore options outside of the drive-alone commute, such as offering parking cash-outs and subsidized transit passes.
  • And in recent years, Midtown Alliance has collaborated with MARTA on a number of station enhancements (like murals and seating) at the MARTA stations in Midtown.  

While in 2014, fewer than 2% of commute trips to Midtown were on foot or by bicycle, by 2019 that number grew to 5%. This shift has occurred as Midtown has prioritized the safety of people walking and biking, adding in miles of bike lanes and repairing sidewalks. In fact, since November 2014, Midtown Alliance has spent over $1 million on sidewalk repairs within the district, including ADA ramp upgrades to improve mobility for all pedestrians who navigate the district. In addition, Midtown Alliance’s corridor and intersection improvements have made Midtown sidewalks comfortable, well-lit and lined with trees. 

And while telecommuting accounted for 9% of clean Midtown commutes in 2014, by 2019 that share nearly doubled to 16%. The increase in personal technology and the proliferation of office-wide communications platforms has likely influenced this increase. And the desire to save money is likely part of it too: the cheapest commute is no commute. AAA's annual "Your Driving Costs" study in 2014 pegged the average cost to own and operate a motor vehicle at 51.9 cents per mile. By 2019 that figure had inched up to 61.8 cents per mile. In 2014 and 2019 the most common reason Atlanta commuters chose an alternative to driving was to save money—and these concerns become more pressing during our current economic downturn. 

As Atlanta - and the world - continues to be shaped by the ongoing COVID-19 crisis, Midtown Transportation's team anticipates that teleworking will remain a popular and effective workplace strategy for a majority of Midtown employers. During this pandemic, Midtown Transportation has helped businesses address the challenges of remote work, and companies have overcome the hurdle of building out their telework infrastructure. Many Midtown employers are continuing to encourage employees to work remotely for the time being. Looking forward, these changes will likely be here to stay, at least in some form. Several Midtown employers we surveyed have indicated their return strategies will include staggered telework and flexible work schedules for some staff. Given that there will likely be a return to more people driving alone to work as a safety precaution, telework will be a crucial strategy to offset single occupancy vehicle-related congestion and environmental impacts. 

Midtown Transportation’s commute specialists are here to help your business adjust to telework and strategize around a return to the office. Schedule a meeting today. 

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