People of color own fewer cars, take transit more

Access to cars and transit affects mobility

PSRC’s latest travel survey found that car ownership, transit ridership, and ride-hailing differs between racial groups in the region.

The 2019 Household Travel Survey included 3,044 households throughout King, Pierce, Snohomish, and Kitsap counties. People taking the survey were asked to identify their race.

We looked at three broad racial groups. Since racial categories other than non-Hispanic white and Asian had sample sizes too small for many analyses, we clustered them under the grouping Other People of Color.

Individuals in the Other People of Color group are more likely to live in a household with zero cars than either of the other groups. One in 10 households of Other People of Color have no vehicle. In contrast, only about one in 20 white households lacks access to a vehicle.

On the other end of the spectrum are households with several cars. Among whites, over a third (36%) live in households with three or more vehicles. But only 20% of Other People of Color live in households with more than two cars.

On average, whites live in households with 2.35 cars, Asians with 1.80 cars, and Other People of Color with 1.74.

Having fewer cars may be one reason both people of color groups are more likely to use transit than whites. They take a bus, train or ferry for about 7% of their trips, while whites use it at a rate of about 4%.

All three groups used transit more for commuting to work than everyday travel. Other People of Color were the most likely to take transit to work (17%), followed by Asians (11%) and whites (9%).

Another question we asked of the data is, what proportion of people never walk or bike?

Among both people of color groups, about 37% say they never walk, while 24% of whites never walk.

Biking is less common than walking. Among all people of color, about 77% responded that they never go for a bike ride, while 72% of whites said the same.

Many people (of all three groups) never take ride-hailing services. Three-quarters of Other People of Color say they never use these apps, while 67% of whites and 66% of Asians say they don’t.

An important takeaway from the survey findings is the importance of the transit system for people of color. The COVID-19 pandemic highlights the disparities in mobility for people of color, as transit service is reduced and they have fewer cars than whites. Additionally, the lack of options people of color have outside of the transit system increases their exposure to the virus and may contribute to the racial and ethnic disparities in COVID-19 cases.

Data from the 2019 Household Travel Survey is on PSRC's website.


What happens to the equity analysis results when income is controlled for?

Our goal with this post was to demonstrate how people of different races experience the transportation system differently.  The underlying causes of travel behavior are wide-ranging including variables such as: transit frequency, perceptions of safety, congestion levels, toll costs, travel time to amenities, household size, person age, and indeed household income.

We have done only preliminary analysis of travel behavior by race and income together.  Our initial findings show that:

  1. For people in household incomes less than $50,000, Other People of Color have a lower walk share than White Only and Asian Only people. Asian Only people have the highest walk share.  For people in household incomes less than $50,000, People of Color have a much higher transit share than whites.
  2. For people in households incomes greater than $50,000, the mode choices are more similar across racial groups.  But the order of the relationships hold: People of Color have a higher transit share than Whites.  Asian Only people have the highest walk share, and Other People of Color have the lowest walk share.