Transit Commuting: Seattle Beats Portland

In the Emerald City, one in five workers take transit.

Posted by Trimet on Flickr.

The US Census says that, as of 2009, Seattle edged out Portland in commuting by transit. Roughly 8.1 percent of greater Seattle commuters rode transit to work in 2009, compared with 6.1 percent in greater Portland.

Focusing on just the cities themselves, rather than the entire metro areas, the difference was even starker:  20.8 percent of Seattle workers commute by transit, compared with 11.6 percent in the City of Roses. (All numbers here are from the Census American Community Survey website, and are compiled based on where people work rather than where they live.)

Of course, we know that these numbers can’t possibly be right: Portland has a nice train, but until mid-2009 greater Seattle had only a few measly miles of light rail. And everybody knows that trains always beat buses. </snark>

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  1. Jon Stahl says:


  2. rex burkholder says:

    Is it possible that people use transit in Seattle because motor vehicles, including buses, are still heavily favored by the Seattle region? In Portland metro area, 4.5% of commuters ride bikes; in the City proper its 8%, in inner city over 13%.

    While buses can beat cars in term of environmental impacts (if they are full) they are still mostly burning fossil fuel even if electric. Your analysis needs to look at the full cost of moving, including avoided trips, vehicle miles traveled per capita, use of walking and cycling, etc. Being proud of having more people use one form of motor vehicle over another, without looking at the true environmental impact of transportation choice is just crowing for the sake of crowing and doesn’t give us any indication of the greater picture.

    for data geeks, this is a misuse of your skills with data worthy of a Wendell Cox!

    • Eric de Place says:


      I’ll break down the numbers a little further according to the ACS 2010 data set:
      ** 59% of Portland’s commuters drive alone versus 54% of Seattle’s.
      ** 10% of Portland’s commuters drive in a carpool versus 9% of Seattle’s.
      ** 5% of Portland’s commuters walked versuse 8% of Seattle’s.
      ** 7% of workers in both cities worked from home.

      Portland does do better in the Census’ “other” category, which includes bicycles, motorcycles, and taxis. 7% of Portland’s commuters fit into this category versus 5% of Seattle’s.

  3. Wells says:

    The best measurement of transit effectiveness is how it acts as an alternative to driving. By all measurements SEATTLE falls far behind every major American city for its lousy traffic, lousy sidewalks & crosswalks, lousy bicycling, all of which could be improved with better transit. The fact that Seattle’s ‘entire’ transportation system is lousy isn’t concealed by juggling statistics.

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