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The Future of Commuting Is Hard to Predict

While society has changed much getting to work hasn't

By Livability.com on January 30, 2015


While the economy, technology and culture have dramatically changed over the last few decades, the way we get to our jobs really hasn’t. That’s the key finding in a new commuting patterns report released by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials.

When it comes to predicting what will happen over the next three decades, transportation experts say the future of commuting is uncertain but will likely become more varied from place to place. That means how people get to work in one city could be very different from how they commute in another city.

This makes it hard on planners.

“Hopefully, the changing demographics, economy, technology and values that are making predicting the future uncertain will also produce unanticipated strategies and technologies to address the inevitable transportation changes,” authors of the study say.

Future Filled With Questions

Among the many questions the transportation industry looks to answer is how the introduction of automated (or driverless) vehicles impact traffic patterns. The report also asks whether changes to the traditional work schedule, evolving technologies such as smartphone apps, and income growth disparity will lead to significant changes in commuting behavior.

“While these questions are both old and new and have pertinence to the characteristics shaping commuting in the future, some have been overwhelmed by economic realities and have lost their power to solely shape patterns when examined in the light of the present economic context,” the authors say.

Drive Time

Approximately 28 percent of all daily trips taken in the U.S. are by people driving to or from work. U.S. Census Bureau projections suggest the population of the working age group (18 to 64) will see a sharp decline over the next 20 years. Projections show that only 6 million people will enter the workforce between 2015 and 2030, a sharp contrast to the 26 million that joined the workforce between 2000 and 2012.

“Our research finds that commute trip travel time and the pattern of commute traveling have remained remarkably stable over the past decade. However, employment conditions and consequently the nature of commuting continue to be in a dynamic period,” says co-author Steve Polzin, Ph.D., of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of South Florida. “Over time, these changes may continue to alter work-trip commuting trends, and it’s important to continue to track this data moving forward.”

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