Image by Matthew Friedman licensed under Creative Commons.

The US Census Bureau recently released the latest American Community Survey, which includes data on transit commuting for counties around the country. I created some graphs that show the top performers in the region and across the US. 

The bad news: only about 5 percent of people commute by transit in the US. The news that should make us proud: the Washington region ranks second nationwide in counties with high percentages of transit commuters. 

These are the counties with the most transit commuters

Nationally, only 5.1 percent of workers commute to work by transit. In counties throughout some major metropolitan areas, the story is different, however.

Image by the author.

In 21 counties, at least 15 percent of commuters use transit — about three times the national average. The New York City region includes nine of these counties, including the top five performers. DC takes sixth place with 36.8 percent of commuters using transit, following only four New York City boroughs and Hudson County, New Jersey, which includes Jersey City.

The Washington region had the second most counties — a total of six — with at least 15 percent of commuters using transit.

The San Francisco, Boston (Suffolk County), Philadelphia, Chicago (Cook County), and Baltimore areas all also each had one central county with above 15 percent of commuters travel by transit. The one outlier on this list is Mono County, California — a largely rural area in the eastern part of the state. In this case, however, the data have a high margin of error of 5.1 percent.

Transit commuting is pretty popular around DC

Image by the author.

As we saw, the Washington region contains some of the most transit-heavy counties for commuters. Outside of the inner counties though, there is no area where the rate of transit commuters breaks 10 percent. Nonetheless, only Loudoun County and Manassas City fall below the national average.

At the state level, both Virginia and Maryland rank high. Since it is entirely urban, DC is unsurprisingly at the top of the list.

Image by the author.

Maryland ranks sixth, falling behind states around the New York, Boston, and Chicago metropolitan areas. The total percentage falls below 10 percent, but as Jim Titus explained, this figure is somewhat misleading.

Virginia ranks lower at 12th place, and ranks below the national average at 4.5 percent. Even then, the state scores similarly to states such as California and Oregon.

What else does the data tell us

The Washington region shows its relative strength in transit commuting in the most recent ACS, while the case of New York shows that there is certainly room for improvement. In particular, the New York City region’s high average density could be one of the chief reasons why so many of its counties score high on transit use.

Likewise, a number of the top performing counties for transit commuters also appear to match the areas where car ownership is the lowest.

Lastly, there is a large discrepancy between the mean and median transit commuter rates at both the state and county level. In other words, a small number of areas make up most of the transit commuters for the whole country.

Although the mean rate is 5.2 percent nationwide, the median state only has 1.1 percent of commuters travel by transit. Even worse, in 80 percent of counties nationwide, less than 1 percent of workers who use public transportation.

This post has been updated to reflect that the New York City region includes nine counties where at least 15 percent of commuters use transit, not seven as previously stated. 

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Stephen Hudson resides in Southwest DC — the fourth quadrant he has lived in. He works for a government relations firm and has previous experience with transportation policy at a trade association. His professional interests include transportation and infrastructure, foreign languages, and comparative international politics. The views expressed are his own.