Transportation Choices

How Are We Doing?

Transportation choices received a neutral rating because the percentage of San Diegans who drive alone changed from 76.3% in 2017 to 76.5% in 2018, which is within the American Community Survey's statistical margin of error. Compared with other regions, San Diego County has a low percentage of bicycle and public transit commuters, but a slightly higher work at home percentage.

Want to know more about what we're measuring?

More details regarding how we are doing in the past ten years on providing transportation choices are described in this 10-year trend analysis.

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No change from 2017 to 2018

In San Diego County, driving alone is the most common method of travel to work like many other Southern California counties. Since 2010, the percentage of people driving to work alone has slightly increased over the course of eight years and in 2018, 76% of people drove to work alone in San Diego County. Los Angeles County, although similar in size to San Diego County, has a lower percentage of people driving alone to work.

A deeper dive into the comparison of the percentage of people driving to work alone among cities in San Diego County is found in the 10-year trend analysis. The City of Oceanside had the highest increase in drive-alone commutes between 2010‒2018, increasing by five percent. While, the cities of San Marcos, Lemon Grove and Encinitas were the only jurisdictions where the percentage of people driving alone to work decreased. The City of San Diego has remained consistent and unchanged since 2011.

The percentage of people in San Diego County who drove to work alone remained high at 76.5% in 2018, followed by carpooling at 8.8% and working from home at 6.6%. There is no significant year by year change in any of the travel to work modes. Although transportation network companies have offered new app-based bicycle and electric scooter options as an inexpensive solution for first and last mile connections, this option has not been included as a travel to work mode. The rapid expansion of these app-based mobility options has also prompted negative actions from local governments due to the lack of regulatory policies. More details on the rise and fall of mobility companies in the City of San Diego is described in the 10-year trend analysis.

Public transportation use among commuters in San Diego County was 2.6% in 2018, which is low compared to San Francisco County (more than 30%) and Los Angeles County (close to 6%). Even in San Francisco County, with its well connected bus and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail system, and an ordinance requiring employers to offer commuter benefits, the percentage of commuters using public transit decreased from 2016 to 2018. One potential reason for this decrease is the time it takes during the daily commute for the different transportation modes. In San Diego County, almost 80% of transit commuters spend 30 minutes or more in their daily commute, while close to 40% of commuters who drive to work, either alone or in a carpool, spend more than 30 minutes during their commute. Another reason public transportation is not utilized could be because of the lack of access from home or work to transit stations. The introduction and use of app-rented bicycles and electric scooters as first/last mile options is a potential solution, however, the rollout of these mobility services has been a bumpy ride in the City of San Diego. A timeline of the major scooter and app-sharing development in the City of San Diego is described in this 10-year trend analysis.

The San Diego Metropolitan Transit System (MTS) is the largest transit provider in San Diego County. Its overall transit ridership has fluctuated between 2011 and 2018, reaching its peak of 90 million passengers in 2015, but then regressing back to near 2011 levels in 2019. The increase in vehicle availability could be a potential reason for this decrease in transit ridership. In San Diego County, 95% of the households have access to at least one vehicle. Vehicle availability has not changed significantly in the past 10 years and more details are discussed in this 10-year trend analysis. However, not all MTS transit routes have seen a decrease in ridership. The three trolley lines, which connect the City of San Diego, the U.S.-Mexico border and east county have seen an increase in ridership by 18% since 2011.

The number of bicycle commuters in San Diego County has decreased to 0.4% in 2018 from 0.8% in 2017. Bay Area Counties, especially San Francisco County, remain the leader in bicycle commuting despite its hilly terrain. Overall, the percentage of commuters bicycling to work in all California counties between 2016 and 2018 remains low.

In 2018, 7% of people in San Diego County worked from home, a slight increase from 2016 with 6.6% working from home. This percentage is higher than the combined percentage of commuters using public transit and bicycling to work.

Why Are Transportation Choices Important?

High quality of life means the region boasts a thriving economy, a healthy environment, and is an equitable place for all San Diegans to grow and prosper.

  • Environment: Each San Diego County commuter who biked and/or walked to work for a year, helped to avoid an equivalent of nearly 1 metric ton of carbon dioxide, which is comparable to switching 34 incandescent lights to LEDs, or planting and growing 15 tree seedlings for 10 years.
  • Economy: The opportunities to assess the economic benefits of transportation choice for individuals and communities are limited in the San Diego region due to historical and cultural reasons, such as acquiring a driver’s license as early as age 16; convenient highway accessibility in terms of time, proximity, or comfort; and the price of alternative automotive modes to work and recreation being severely limited. However, when gasoline prices soared above $4 per gallon in 2008, the use of bus and rail increased significantly. It has also been shown that non-single-occupant car modes can be attractive when employers or property managers provide them as benefit options. 
  • Equity: Low income, environmentally-burdened communities (e.g. disproportionately affected by high levels of pollution) in the City of San Diego have over three times the amount of transit-dependent households (those without a car) in comparison to the entire city. Access to reliable public transportation is therefore critical.

Regional Response

Policies

SANDAG’s Regional Plan Update 2021 increasingly responds to the climate policy targets, goals and guidance set by the state of California. Increasing transportation choice is an essential component of the plan to help achieve regional climate goals and objectives. 

Projects

Walk and bicycle projects based on Active Transportation Plans (ATP) are now common in Climate Action Plans throughout the region. These are jurisdiction-specific projects going beyond the regional ATP implemented over the next 10-40 years by SANDAG.

Partnerships

Completed in March 2019, Villa Encantada Apartments, located adjacent to a trolley station in Encanto, is the most recent affordable housing, transit-oriented development (TOD) in the region. This housing development includes 67 apartments classified as LEED Silver, and resulted from an agreement between MTS and AMCAL Multifamily Housing. These commuters are now able to use the Orange trolley line to reach the downtown area of San Diego within 20 minutes.


What Are We Measuring?

We measure alternative transportation by tracking the percentage of workers 16 years or older who commute by car, bicycle, public transit or other options, and compare these proportions to other major urban counties. Greenhouse gas emissions avoided are estimated using the California Air Resources Board's Emissions Factor model (EMFAC2017), assuming commuters would otherwise be driving a 2017 model year gasoline car five days a week. Average walking commute distance for the San Diego region is 0.7 miles roundtrip, and bicycle commute distance is 8 miles round trip. These trip lengths are locally obtained from SANDAG. Commute distances for other counties will vary. Learn more about the data.