US Census reveals no change in love affair with car

The 2000 Census of the United States reveals that in the 10 years since the last survey Americans own more vehicles than ever before, spend longer commuting to work and still shun public transport.

Of an estimated 127.5 million commuters, 97.25 million, or more than 76% travel to work alone in a car, truck or van, a 3% increase since 1990. Only 11% car pool, a decrease of 2% in a decade, despite encouragement to do so. Public transport use remains one of the lowest in the world, with only 5% of American workers using either mass transport or a taxi to get to work, a 0.2% decrease on 1990’s figure, despite efforts during the decade to expand public transport systems.

The traffic problem is increasing more than ever, the Census shows, with an increase of 12.5 million workers over the decade, and no decrease in commuting levels. The widely-held expectation that working from home would become a common phenomenon is shown by the figures to be as yet unfounded, as only 3% have this luxury, roughly the same proportion as in 1990, long before the internet facilitated this possibility. Four percent of workers travelled to work on foot, or by other means, such as bicycle.

Experts believe that millions of Americans view longer commutes from nicer areas as an acceptable trade-off for having a bigger house. Indeed, the average commuting time now stands at 24.3 minutes, up from 22.4 minutes in 1990, although it is unclear if this increase is due to greater distances travelled or increased traffic congestion. What is perhaps surprising is that rural areas, where traffic has traditionally not been a problem, have long commutes – in West Virginia the average journey time to work is 25.5 minutes, compared to 26.7 average in traffic-laden California, and New Hampshire’s commute, at 24.4 minutes, is longer than in the urban state of Florida.

The Census also shows that households are buying even more vehicles than before, in 1990, 17.4% of households had three or more vehicles, this has now increased to 18.3%, while the percentage of households with no vehicle has decreased from 11.5% in 1990, to 2000’s 9.3%. The most common scenario is to have two vehicles, which is the case in 35% of households.

The population of the United States is also increasing at unprecedented rates in comparison with other developed nations, many of which have static or declining populations. In 2000, the estimated population of the US stood at some 281.4 million, an increase of 32.7 million, or another California, in a decade.

Data collection for the 2000 Census began in November 1999 in 1,203 counties and ran through to December 2000. This size sample is sufficient to produce data for every state in the nation, as well as for counties and most metropolitan areas of 250,000 in population or more, Census compilers say.

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