Fewer people in Virginia are driving to work alone, Virginians want more bus, train, and bike options throughout the state, and there’s a link between the number of transit options a person has and their quality of life. These takeaways, and more, come from a recently-released survey of Virginia’s residents.

One question in the survey asked “How satisfied are you with your trip to work?” Image from DRPT.

Last year, Virginia’s Department of Rail and Public Transportation ran the Virginia Statewide Travel Study, asking almost 10,000 people across the state about their commutes. The agency ran a similar survey in 2007.

The vast majority of respondents came from 12 major areas in the state including Northern Virginia, Richmond, Fredericksburg, and Charlottesville. The survey asked people a variety of questions about how they get to work, what they know about the transportation available where they live, and what they think about it.

The results of the 2015 were presented in May, at the Virginia Transit Association’s annual conference. DRPT summarized the study’s findings in five points:

  1. Virginia is becoming more multimodal, and transit is part of this success story.
  2. Higher satisfaction ratings with work commutes directly correlate to higher satisfaction ratings with Virginia’s transportation system. Higher ratings of Virginia’s transportation system drive higher quality of life ratings.
  3. Those who commute to work by bus/train (versus other modes) are more satisfied with their work commutes and Virginia’s transportation system.
  4. Virginia needs to get more people on board. This comes with little risk, as more people would ride the bus if more convenient transit services were available.
  5. Most people would support more investment in Virginia’s transportation system. The vast majority of Virginians, including “drive-alone commuters,” feel it is important that Virginia invest in its transportation system to maintain and grow Virginia’s economy. This includes alternative transportation options.

The average commuting distance from home to work of those surveyed was just under 17 miles and 29 minutes one-way, just about the same as what the survey found in 2007.

However, the survey also found that people driving alone to/from work accounted for around 77% of trips, a 5% decrease from 82% in 2007. The drop in single-occupancy driving is interesting, as Virginia’s population has grown by 600,000 people from 7.7 to 8.3 million between the time the two studies were conducted.

Seven of 10 major regional markets in Virginia saw the drop in drive-alone rates, led by Hampton Roads (down 11 percent), Culpeper (down 9 percent), and Richmond (down 8 percent). State-wide, Virginia saw train, bus, and telework commuting rise 5.5 percent at the same time.

Virginians agree strongly that public transportation is important.

When asked about the importance of investment in and upkeep of transportation, all age groups, generations, transportation mode users, and even the vast majority of drive-alone commuters expressed significant agreement that the transportation system is important to Virginia’s economy.

Most importantly though, the responses seem to indicate agreement that a multitude of transportations is important — not just driving. Multiple options including car, train, and bus can provide backups to each other, added capacity, and affordable options for getting from one place to the next.

DRPT’s study suggests increasing transit frequency and making it more available would increase ridership.

The DRPT survey also suggests that if there were more transit service, more people would use it. Just around 50 percent of those surveyed said they would be more likely to use public transit more often if either it was available closer to where they live, or if it operated more frequently. Both of these statements seem to be fairly obvious, but now the state has data to back up similar claims when they’re looking to expand capacity like bringing rail service back to Roanoake.

Interestingly, there’s a 6% gap between the top two responses, and the next five down. The response gap between the top two and the third option of less-expensive fares appears to suggest that even if the transit service is somewhat pricey (think WMATA’s distance-based fares), the ridership could still be there as long as access to the service is convenient, and as long as the service is frequent.

The entire 2015 Virginia Statewide Travel Study presentation is available on the DRPT website. The agency plans to release region-specific versions of the report in the near future.

Stephen Repetski is a Virginia native and has lived in the Fairfax area for over 20 years. He has a BS in Applied Networking and Systems Administration from Rochester Institute of Technology and works in Information Technology. Learning about, discussing, and analyzing transit (especially planes and trains) is a hobby he enjoys.