Area Commuters Flock to Alternative Transit

Study shows average commuter spent extra 23 hours in traffic in 2011

Alternative transporation has become more popular in the Raleigh-Durham area, including riding Triangle Transit. Duke community members can ride local buses for free with the GoPass. Photo courtesy of GoTriangle.
Alternative transporation has become more popular in the Raleigh-Durham area, including riding Triangle Transit. Duke community members can ride local buses for free with the GoPass. Photo courtesy of GoTriangle.

Several times a week, Cathy Watson hops on the Raleigh-Durham express bus and gets a head start on work or relaxes with a book during the roughly hour-long ride.

It's a trip made easier with the GoPass, Duke's free local and regional bus pass offered to all students and eligible staff and faculty. Watson enjoys saving money and avoiding the stress of a daily commute.

"I like to drive sometimes because it means that I can come and go at the times I need to," said Watson, associate director of student community life at the Duke Divinity School. "But even when I drive, I miss having the `hands free and mind free' experience. When I'm on the bus I can read, knit, do work or just wind down on the way home."

In recent years, commuters from Raleigh, Durham and its suburbs have flocked to alternative transportation as a way to get to-and-from work. An annual study by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute showed that from most recent 2011 stats, local residents racked up 24.4 million passenger trips on public transportation, accumulating 100.4 million miles. Both those numbers are up about 25 percent from the previous year.

That behavior is boosted by interest in programs like GoPass, which allows for free rides on buses from Triangle Transit, Durham Area Transit Authority and Raleigh's Capital Area Transit lines. About 8,400 Duke students and employees use GoPass.

The study does mention bumps in the road for commuters, however. According to the findings, auto commuters in the Raleigh-Durham area spent 23 hours of their driving 2011 driving time stuck in traffic, using up an excess of 11 gallons of gas in the process. That's still below national averages for similar metro areas where spending 37 hours and burning 17 gallons of gas in traffic over a year is the norm.

Overall, the Texas A&M study estimates each hour spent sitting in traffic in the Raleigh-Durham area costs $16.79 for a commuter, the national average. That figure is based on wasted time from delays and cost of fuel.

"Saving money on gas is a great asset, but most of all, I just like talking to somebody," said Amy Kennedy, a staff assistant in the Division of Neurology. Most days, she carpools to work from Timberlake with her mother, Wanda Bailey, who works a temporary job at Duke. "Riding together also takes the stress out of finding a place to park since we have a reserved space for carpooling in the GC Lot."

In addition to 760 registered carpool participants like Kennedy, students and employees also account for 34 vanpoolers and 516 full-time bike commuters.

"Alternative transportation can help alleviate the stress of driving to work," said Alison Carpenter, Duke's manager of transportation demand management. "It provides a way to connect with nature by walking or biking to work or you can simply spend your time on a bus or in a carpool reading, napping and relaxing while someone else does the driving."