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Portland Commuters Are Driving More, Taking Transit Less

A TriMet bus in SW Portland.

A TriMet bus in SW Portland.

Rebecca Galloway/OPB

People working in downtown Portland are driving more than riding transit to their jobs, according to surveys conducted by the Portland Business Alliance.

The group’s most recent survey found that 44 percent of downtown commuters were driving to work in 2011. That’s up from 36 percent three years ago. And 34 percent of downtown commuters said they took bus or light rail to work last year. That’s down from 44 percent three years ago.

Portland State University professor Kelly Clifton says the data reflect national commuting patterns, as transit agencies cut service and employers suspend bus passes.

“In economic downturns, we see cuts to transit service,” Clifton says. “We also see the private provision of transit benefits change – and as some of those go away, people who have already made sunk investment in purchasing a car, they’re probably more likely to use it.”

Clifton notes that commuters are also choosing to bike to work more often. Clifton says Portland commuters tend to favor transit and bikes more than in other cities Portland’s size.

The business surveys were for 2011. A TriMet spokeswoman says ridership has gone up two-percent this year, after climbing steadily since the 1990’s.