Transportation Choices

How Are We Doing?

Transportation choices received a neutral rating because the percentage of San Diegans who drive alone changed from 76.5% in 2018 to 76.0% in 2019, 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.

minus7

No change in percent who drive alone to work

Like many other Southern California counties, driving alone is the most common method of traveling to work in San Diego County. The percentage of people driving to work alone in San Diego County was 76% in 2019, and this percentage has not changed over the past eight years. 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 this 10-year trend analysis. The City of Oceanside had the highest increase in drive-alone commutes between 2010‒2018, increasing by five percent. The cities of San Marcos, Lemon Grove and Encinitas were the only cities 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 76.0% in 2019, followed by carpooling at 8.7% and working from home at 7.5%. There is no significant year by year change in any of the travel to work modes for 2019. An increase in the percentage for working from home is expected in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 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 local governments to impose restrictions 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 this 10-year trend analysis.

Public transportation use among commuters in San Diego County was 2.8% in 2019, which is low compared to San Francisco County (more than 30%) and Los Angeles County (close to 6%). San Francisco county boasts a well connected bus and Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) rail system, and an ordinance requiring employers to offer commuter benefits [link to:  https://sfenvironment.org/commuter-benefits-program-faq#Imp1], which are likely the factors contributing to an increase in the percentage of commuters using public transit from 2018 to 2019. 

One potential reason for San Diego County’s low use of public transportation is that transit commuters typically experience longer commute times than those who drive alone or carpool to work. According to 2018 U.S. Census data highlighted in this 10-year trend analysis, nearly 80% of transit commuters spent 30 minutes or more in their daily commutes compared to roughly 40% of vehicle-based commuters. Another reason public transportation is not highly utilized could be the lack of access to transit stations from home or work. 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 slow process in the City of San Diego. A timeline of the major scooter and app-sharing developments 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. Between 2011 and 2016, its overall ridership has been fluctuating, reaching a peak of 96 million passengers in 2015, but steadily declining since 2017. As of 2018, over 95% of San Diego County residents have access to at least one vehicle which could explain the declining use of public transit. Further details regarding vehicle access are discussed in the 10-year trend analysis. Despite the overall decline in MTS ridership, the trolley lines which connect the City of San Diego to the U.S.-Mexico border and the east county region have seen an increase in ridership by 18% since 2011. This data, however, was largely impacted in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic orders which mandated residents to stay at home to protect their health and that of others.

The number of bicycle commuters in San Diego County has increased very slightly from 0.4%  in 2018 to 0.6% in 2019. 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 between 2017 and 2019 in all California counties remains low.

In 2019, 7.5% of people in San Diego County worked from home, a slight increase from 2018 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 and a healthy environment accessible to all in the community.

  • 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 alternatives 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.

Want to learn more? Watch the Voice of San Diego's San Diego 101 video on the agency tasked with improving how we get around, the San Diego Association of Governments. San Diego 101 is a series from Voice of San Diego made to educate San Diegans about some of the most important issues that shape our region.


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 San Diego County region. These are jurisdiction-specific projects going beyond the regional ATP implemented over the next 10-40 years by SANDAG. One of these is the Rose Creek Bikeway which opened in May 2021 between University City and Pacific Beach.

Partnerships

Completed in June 2021, the Mid-Coast Trolley, is an extension of the Blue Line Trolley and, runs from the U.S.-Mexico Border up to the University of California at San Diego area. This new trolley extension is currently in the testing phase, but is expected to be available to public use by the end of 2021.


What Are We Measuring?

We measure alternative transportation by tracking the percentage of workers 16 years of age  and older who commute by car, bicycle, public transit or other options, and compare these proportions to other major urban counties within California. 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. The average walking commute distance for the San Diego County region is 0.7 miles roundtrip, and the bicycle commute distance is 8 miles round trip. These trip lengths are locally obtained from San Diego Association of Governments (SANDAG). Commute distances for other counties will vary. Learn more about the data.