These are not the typical "long transit commuters" that are normally invoked in pity-oriented articles; they're well-dressed white professionals. So that got me wondering about the incomes of transit riders, and sure enough the American Community Survey has them. Here are nine metro areas where transit riders have higher incomes than drivers, and Ponce, Puerto Rico makes ten:
|Metro Area||Overall median income||Drove alone median income||Public transportation median income||Public transportation margin of error||Public transportation/ drove alone ratio||Transit- car/ error|
|Idaho Falls, ID||$26,120||$25,607||$61,214||$8,522||2.34||4.17|
So here we see that the median transit commuter in Idaho Falls made $61,214 in 2009, while the median single-occupant driver made only $25,607. Torrington, CT was more dramatic because the incomes were higher: transit commuters made $82,431 while drivers only made $41,540.
To get this list, I eliminated those cities where the ACS had no data for transit rider income or population, and those where the margin of error was more than 25% of the median transit rider's income. I have marked in pale red the metro areas where the difference in median income levels is below the margin of error for the transit riders. In those cases, the survey is not reliable enough to tell us whether there really is a difference in median income between the two groups, so we can treat them as basically equal incomes. Here are the population and commute time figures:
|Metro Area||Total workforce||Public transportation commuters||Public transportation mode share||Drive time||Transit time|
|Idaho Falls, ID||57,442||1,617||3%||19.9||69|
There are no commute time figures for Kingston, but the commutes are roughly the same as Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown. These two areas, plus Torrington, Trenton, and Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk, form the outer ring of suburbs around New York City. In all these places the rich people are the ones who can get jobs in the city, and the lower-income ones have to work nearby. Some of the rich commute to the city by car, but many take comfortable commuter trains or buses. Local transit is pretty crappy, though, so the people who work locally have to drive - and in many cases spend a large chunk of their money on driving expenses. In Trenton and Stamford, there is enough high-paying "job sprawl" to bring the incomes of the drivers up.
When I first looked at this list, I was sure that Idaho Falls was an error. People making $60K a year, spending 69 minutes a day on a bus in Idaho? But it turns out that a major employer in the area is Idaho National Laboratory, which runs a fleet of comfortable motor coaches to bring people to work. Apparently there's not much of anywhere to live around the labs, so all these nuclear physicists live in Idaho Falls. Roughly a third of the 4,000-person staff takes advantage of the opportunity to travel with their colleagues on free buses rather than falling asleep on the desert roads by themselves. This has been working well for sixty years, but recently the lab decided to replace the local stops with park-and-rides, essentially forcing every worker to drive partway. They seem to be spinning it as an overall win-win, but it's forcing the individual workers to spend more time and money on fuel and emissions (and perhaps even buy a car that will get driven a few miles and then sit in a lot all day) to save the lab a little time and money.
Bremerton-Silverdale, as mentioned previously, covers the area across the Puget Sound from Seattle, and the commute basically involves a comfortable hour on the ferry. Vallejo-Fairfield is an exurb of San Francisco, with bus/BART and ferry connections, as well as buses to Sacramento. I haven't been able to figure out what's going on in Ponce, but the average transit trip is only nine minutes longer than the average drive.
In sum, we shouldn't feel too bad about some people with long transit commutes. Many of them are pretty well-off, and they get a chance to take a nap or play solitaire. Of course there are plenty of poor people with long transit commutes, often involving multiple buses. Those are people we should work to help.