Thursday, April 08, 2010

Population, Jobs and Commutes in the Washington Region, Part Six

In the first five parts of this series, we examined differing rates of growth in population, employment and real wages across the Washington region and explored historic shifts of commuting patterns among its Big Four jurisdictions: D.C., Fairfax, MoCo and Prince George’s. Today we will look at what those patterns mean for people traveling to work.

Below are the percentages of people traveling less than or more than thirty minutes to work, as well as mean travel times, for every jurisdiction in the region from the U.S. Census Bureau.

It comes as little surprise that the jurisdictions with the longest travel times are all outer suburbs: Charles and Calvert Counties in Maryland and Stafford, Spotsylvania, Warren and Prince William Counties in Virginia. Small cities (like Fairfax and Fredericksburg Cities) and inner jurisdictions like D.C., Alexandria and Arlington have the shortest commutes. But Prince George’s County is an outlier. It has a higher percentage of its people traveling 30 minutes or more (61.3%) than many outer counties including Stafford, Spotsylvania, Calvert and Warren. It also has a longer average commute (35.9 minutes) than does Frederick (33.8 minutes). The failure of Prince George’s County to create high-wage jobs for its residents is exacting a stunning cost on them in their daily commutes.

There is also a notable difference between the Maryland and Virginia suburbs. In the five Maryland counties, 57.7% of commuters traveled thirty minutes or more. In Virginia, that percentage was 52.8%. Maryland commuters had a mean travel time of 34.8 minutes while Virginia commuters had a mean travel time of 33.3 minutes. Let’s remember that our dataset includes very distant outer suburbs in Virginia (like Stafford, Warren and Spotsylvania) while it excludes distant Maryland suburbs like Washington and St. Mary’s Counties.

Here are the average commute times for the Big Four in 2006-08:

District of Columbia: 29.5 minutes
Fairfax: 30.8 minutes
Montgomery: 32.9 minutes
Prince George’s: 35.9 minutes

And here are the percentages of commuters traveling at least 30 minutes to work:

District of Columbia: 48.9%
Fairfax: 51.8%
Montgomery: 56.0%
Prince George’s: 61.3%

For the three suburban jurisdictions, the rank order of travel times - Fairfax first, Montgomery second and Prince George’s third – is an exact match for the rank order in population growth, employment growth and real wage growth. This is not a coincidence. Creating abundant high-wage jobs near where residents live, which has been a specialty of Fairfax for the last few decades, pays off in lower commuting times.

We’ll wrap up our findings tomorrow.