Renter Data Reflects Broader National Decline in Public Transportation Use
While public transportation usage is highest among apartment renters, recent data show a secular decline, keeping with the overall trend of changing commuter preferences and workplace environments.
Driving to Work Lower Among Apartment Renters
Reflecting the recent spike in car ownership rates and lower gas prices, driving to work has experienced a resurgence. Conversely, public transportation usage has witnessed alarming declines across major US cities, largely attributed to lower system upgrades.
As shown below, commuting by private vehicles (primarily cars) was the dominant mode of transportation for working renters across all asset types. Between asset types, however, private vehicle rates varied from a high of an 87% share in suburban single-family rentals to a 64% share in downtown-oriented large apartment properties in 20161.
Car ridership shares in small apartment properties, which are more dispersed along the downtown-suburban continuum, landed in an expected middle ground at 77%.
Looking at the broader transportation landscape, as shown below, commuting rates by public transportation (including taxis, less than 1%) varied significantly from a share of only 4% in single-family rentals, to 12% in small apartment properties, and a substantial 21% in large apartment properties.
Additionally, 5% of workers living in small apartment properties walked to work, and this figure jumps to 9% in large apartment properties. The growing ‘gig economy’ contributed to about 4% of renters working from home across all property types.
Public Transportation Use Declining
Reflecting the fact that transportation choices are often a zero-sum tradeoff, where private transportation methods have risen, public ones have fallen. Data show a significant decline in public transportation usage among working renters living in apartments from 2014 to 2016.
As shown below, transit ridership share among working renters fell by nearly 244 basis points (bps) in large apartment properties over this period, accompanied by a comparable shift to driving. Declines were less severe across the other asset types, with the next largest decline being a 53 bps dip among small asset renters.
Taken alone, taxis showed a small increase of 22 bps in large buildings and 13 bps in small buildings, reflecting the nascent impact of ride-hailing to work, while working at home increased across all property types.
For property managers, the impact of workplace transformation and new transportation technologies on renter commuting patterns carries significant implications for the location of future growth opportunities. Implicit in this change, vehicle ownership and commute choice preferences are likely specific to renter age cohorts, which we’ll examine in a follow-up blog.
1All data is sourced from the American Community Survey (ACS), unless otherwise stated. ACS statistics are sample-based estimates of the compositional profile of the total population in the given year of data collection, and include a margin of error.