VA: Hampton Roads ranks high in commuters driving solo to work, expert says: ‘We need to think regionally’

Jan. 30, 2024
Hampton Roads had the fourth highest percentage of people driving alone to work among the 41 metropolitan areas in the country with populations between 1 and 4 million.

For the past 41 years, Ralph Riddick has relied on vanpooling services for his weekday commute to work in Hampton Roads.

A sheet metal worker at the Newport News shipyard, Riddick and nine of his fellow shipyard workers depend on the daily ride.

Three years ago, Riddick began participating in the Norfolk-based Traffix program administered by Hampton Roads Transit and funded by the Hampton Roads Transportation Planning Organization. Traffix oversees carpooling, commuter matching, guaranteed ride programs, teleworking, vanpooling and van leasing. He had previously relied on private vanpooling.

But, Riddick and his colleagues are in the minority.

Most commuters, or 76%, drove alone to work in the region in 2022, according to the transportation planning organization’s “State of Transportation in Hampton Roads” report. The percentage is down from 81% before the pandemic as more people worked from home.

Hampton Roads had the fourth highest percentage of people driving alone to work among the 41 metropolitan areas in the country with populations between 1 and 4 million, said Keith Nichols, HRTPO’s principal transportation engineer.

“That is generally higher than Hampton Roads has ranked in this measure historically,” he said. “We think this is due to fewer people in Hampton Roads working at home relative to other regions, largely due to the types of jobs — military, tourism and the port/freight logistics — in our region.”

The report shows that commuters using other modes — public transportation, bicycling and walking — also decreased. Nichols said the decline in public transportation usage is not unique to the region as it’s dropped across the country.

“Although slightly increasing recently, transit ridership for the three transit agencies in Hampton Roads remains about 50% below the levels seen prior to the pandemic,” he said.

There are strategies in place to enhance commuting in our region, including the Traffix program, Nichols said.

Traffix’s registered vanpool numbers are not where they were pre-COVID, but continue to grow, said Amy Jordan, Traffix executive director. The program has 28 vanpools with 223 riders.

During the pandemic, Jordan said Traffix saw a tremendous drop in commuters, carpoolers and vanpoolers in the program.

“Obviously, people were looking to separate their distance from others and just weren’t going into the office, either,” Jordan said. “But, we have continued to see that come back.”

Hybrid and flex work have created opportunities for people to carpool, vanpool, take transit and look at alternative modes, Jordan said. A recent informal survey conducted by The Virginian-Pilot on X, formerly Twitter, showed that while 44.8% of 58 people responding worked solely in an office, 31% had a hybrid work schedule and 24.1% worked from home.

“People’s commuting patterns have changed,” Jordan said.

As high-occupancy lanes and toll lanes are installed, Jordan anticipates an increase in rideshare users.

Riddick never had to be convinced of the benefits of vanpooling as a hassle-free way to commute. At 3:50 a.m. Monday through Friday, the van arrives at his home in Ahoskie, North Carolina, and picks up his colleagues along the way north.

It takes about an hour and a 20 minutes to get to Newport News. Some days, Riddick is the one behind the wheel.

He said he saves a lot of money through the program, especially on his vehicle’s wear and tear. The Traffix cost for Riddick’s calculated route is approximately $60 a week. Riddick said he couldn’t drive his car for that amount.

Nora Chivers commutes solo to her job in Norfolk and sees her commute differently now than she did before.

For the first time in her career, Chivers said she is close enough to her office and can use main roads rather than the interstate. But, Chivers said she finds the condition of the roadways challenging.

“On my way to work, I counted more than a dozen obstacles, including excessively sized potholes, improper lane closures and sinkholes,” she said.

Chivers said she has experienced storm drains both so low and so high that she thought she blew out a tire.

“You can always tell those who commute on these roadways regularly because they know how to avoid hitting these hazards,” she said.

While Chivers has an inner-city commute, the regional study showed that 46% of commuters lived in a different locality from where they worked.

That statistic is a notable one, Nichols said. It was the highest percentage among all similarly sized 41 U.S. metropolitan areas. The study showed the average travel time to work was 24.9 minutes, but nearly 1 in 3 workers had longer commutes of 30 minutes or longer and 5% drove for an hour or more.

“This highlights that we need to think regionally when it comes to transportation solutions,” Nichols said.

Sandra J. Pennecke, 757-652-5836, [email protected]

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