Commuting is a big part of the day for the American worker. According to Thomas Tiemann, the Jefferson Pilot professor of economics at Elon University, we're changing how we get to work in the 21st century. Tiemann, who co-authored a study published in the journal Transportation (May 2012) that examined weekday commuting decisions of full-time American workers between 2003 and 2009, said one of the commuter issues that showed the most change was carpooling.
"What surprised us most in our research wasn't that there were more carpools as a result of rising gas prices, but how the carpools themselves had changed," he said.
According to the statistics, commuters were less likely to take part in a traditional carpool — where one person picks up passengers — and more likely to use a park-n-pool carpool, which has each commuter traveling to a designated spot to form the carpool.
Roughly 750,000 commuters used park-n-pool on any given workday in 2003, according to the research. By 2008, that number had risen to nearly 4 million commuters.
"They came up with these modern carpools because people had already arranged their lives as if they were going to drive alone," he said. "It would be very difficult for them to take public transportation because they've built these houses or rented apartments far from public transportation."
Other discoveries from Tiemann's study include:
• Those who can ride with friends of the same sex and job levels are more likely to be part of a carpool.
• Between the beginning of 2003 and end of 2008 gas prices roughly doubled. In that same period, driving alone decreased 6.7 percent.
• Married commuters were more likely to drive alone and less likely to carpool or use alternative modes like public transportation.
• Mothers were less likely to take public transportation or carpool so they can spend more time with their children.
• Those who need to run errands at the end of the day or tend to household duties were more likely to drive alone.
• People who spend a lot of time with friends and place a higher value on socializing are more likely to carpool or take public transportation than those who spend more time alone.
The data used in Tiemann's study comes from the American Time Use Survey, and included 13,615 full-time workers who were asked to keep track of their activities during a 24-hour period.