Carpooling numbers in the St. Louis region fall short of the national average, according to federal census data, but local agencies think changes in driving habits could alter how commuters get to and from work.
Only 7.1 percent of workers in the St. Louis metropolitan area carpooled in 2015, slightly behind the national average of 9 percent, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.
When gas prices are high or when there’s a lot of construction, carpooling numbers go up, according to S.J. Morrison, a spokesman for local ride-sharing service RideFinders. RideFinders operates in nine area counties and was established in 1994 to improve air quality by reducing traffic congestion and is funded by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Highway Administration.
Gas prices in the St. Louis area have dropped well below the high averages of more than $3.75 in 2012, according to pricing tracker GasBuddy.com. In March 2016, average gas prices in the region dipped to $1.37, though they have since rebounded and averaged $2.15 in January this year.
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But Morrison says a new generation of millennial commuters are seeking not only an economic advantage, but a way to commute that fits their lifestyles.
“Carpooling is serving a growing population of millennials who embrace a shared economy,” Morrison said in a news release. “Now we are seeing people who want a more connected culture and also those who want a healthier place to work and live.”
An insurgence of drivers interested in “sustainable commuting” will improve ride-sharing in the future, Morrison added, citing findings from the American Public Transportation Association.
According to the study, 46 percent of millennials reported that saving money is an important factor that informs their decisions about public transportation.
The East-West Gateway Council of Council of Governments noted that the state of the economy also affects people’s decision to commute.
“Carpooling (among single drivers) goes up when the economy is doing worse,” said Mary Rocchio, the organization’s Manager of Regional Policy Research. She also noted that census data shows large differences between the numbers of white and black people who use public transportation.
“In 2015, 69.5 percent of all commuters using public transportation were black, although black workers represented just 15.7 percent of the total working population,” according to the East-West Gateway Council. “Comparatively, white commuters represented 26.1 percent of public transportation commuters, but 81.4 percent of the total working population.”
Other commuter data from the Census Bureau shows the locations of where people live and travel to work. Data show that from 2009 through 2013, the most recent year available for that measurement, an average of 63,792 people commuted from Madison, St. Clair and Monroe Counties to St. Louis and St. Louis County. Only 12,370 people traveled in the opposite direction.
St. Clair County sent the most people from metro-east counties to St. Louis, at 17,350, and Madison County sent the most people to St. Louis County, at 15,034.
Meanwhile, St. Clair County received the most people from St. Louis and St. Louis County, at 5,960.
St. Louis commuters by the numbers:
- In 2000, about 17.7 percent of workers in the region commuted via walking, bike, transit, rideshare or worked from home. In 2010 and 2015, about 16 percent of commuters chose these modes.
- In 2015, 7.1 percent of commuters carpooled, down from 9.9 percent in 2000.
- Most commuters from all racial groups drive to work alone — 85 percent of white commuters, 77 percent of Asian commuters, 75 percent of black commuters and 71 percent of Hispanic or Latino commuters.
- 12 percent of black commuters choosing transit compared to 1 percent of whites, 1 percent of Asians, and 3 percent of Hispanic or Latino commuters.
- In 2015, black commuters made up 69.5 percent of all commuters using public transportation, although black commuters represented just 15.7 percent the total working population.
- White commuters represented 26.1 percent of public transportation commuters, but 81.4 percent of the total working population.