Public Transportation Use in Marin in Decline since 1990

Public Transportation Use in Marin in Decline since 1990

Marin residents are bombarded with the need to invest increasing amounts in transit. We are already seeing a 1/4c sales tax pay for the train – and may yet see another to complete the promised line length. Neighborhoods such as Larkspur, downtown San Rafael and Civic Center have been targeted with densification in order to prepare for and justify the SMART train.

This week the US Census published figures down to the county level on how people get to work. I took a look at the figures specific to Marin county. The results are fascinating.


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Public Transportation Usage Declined in Marin From 10.2% to 8.6%

Of Marin residents who worked and were over the age of 16 the census showed a decline from 10.2% to 8.6% in the use of public transportation. Note that this is a percentage, so even as Marin’s population slowly increased, use of public transportation declined. This makes the author very skeptical of initiatives such as SMART and a focus on Transit Oriented Development – a policy that has been in place for nearly 15 years in Marin.


Bike Commuting Increased from 0.7% to 1.4% Over the Last 22 Years

This is encouraging, but one needs to maintain perspective that we are in the weeds here. One could tout “bike commuting has doubled”. But consider that the real change in absolute terms is over 22 years of the 122,388 workers just 334 more have chosen to bike to work. That’s just 15 Marinites per year have switched to commuting by bike.

The Real Winner: Working from Home Increases from 6.5% to 9.8%

Never mind transit oriented development. Working from home shows by far the biggest jump with 3,893 more Marinites working from home between 1990 and 2012.

Commuting by Car, Truck or Van is in Slow Decline

Marin Commute Trends WithCar

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As a transit mode commuting by car, truck or van dropped from 78.5% to 75.8%. Clearly by far the largest cause of this displacement is working from home, with a  smaller amount of displacement occurring through people cycling to work. The stats show that despite encouragement and policy people were not switching from driving to work to public transportation.


I  am glad to see bike commuting increasing, but at the same time this must be kept in perspective – these are not huge numbers.

It does seem starkly apparent that policies might switch to encouraging working from home. Of all the transit modes this appears to be the big winner.

What would be interesting would be to match this data up against investment in transportation in Marin between 1990 and 2012.

What would be a challenging policy to pursue, and one that wastes money, would be if there had been an increasing investment in transit in Marin since 1990 during the time when transit usage steadily dropped. I’ll look for this figure and report back.

Source:  US Census Explorer – Commuting Edition