A recent survey shows that nearly half of commuters who drive to work alone cannot be swayed from their daily drive time.

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We love to kvetch about our traffic — fifth worst in the nation — but would you personally be willing to change your driving habits?

New survey data show that a huge number of Seattle-area commuters — close to half — can’t even imagine a scenario that would get them to ditch the car and take an alternative, even just once a week.

In a scientifically conducted survey of more than 6,000 households in King, Snohomish, Pierce and Kitsap counties, the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC) asked participants about a host of hypothetical scenarios that might entice them to take transit, carpool or van pool at least one additional day per week. Respondents could select as many as they liked.


What would get you to stop driving alone to work?

In a new survey from the Puget Sound Regional Council, commuters were asked which hypothetical scenarios would make them carpool, vanpool or take transit an extra day per week. Respondents were allowed to give more than one answer.

Source: Puget Sound Regional Council Survey of 6,000 households conducted from April to mid-June 2014. (Garland Potts / The Seattle Times)
Source: Puget Sound Regional Council Survey of 6,000 households conducted from April to mid-June 2014. (Garland Potts / The Seattle Times)

Some of these scenarios are disincentives, such as jacked-up gas prices, tolls and parking rates (all of these are just hypothetical — the PSRC isn’t suggesting that we do any of them). Gas at $5 per gallon elicited the strongest response, but it would still only change the driving behavior of 18.6 percent commuters. And if parking costs were to spike by 50 percent, 11 out of 12 drivers say they’d simply shrug it off.

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Other scenarios added incentives to alternative travel modes, such as high-speed transit or HOV lanes. Either option would hypothetically slash 10 minutes off current commutes in each direction. That’s a substantial time savings when you consider that the average one-way commute for solo drivers in our area is 26.5 minutes, according to census data. But the survey shows that neither of these things would be enough to lure more than 1 out of 5 commuters in the four-county region away from their cars.

The PSRC even asked if there was something else that hadn’t occurred to them that might do the trick. Again, no. Not many drivers could think of some other scenario that would get them out from behind the wheel.

The survey seems to suggest that, to some degree, our current traffic nightmare is a prison of our own making.

But another take-away from this data is much more positive.

In the survey, 19.6 percent of respondents said that, if it were an option, they would take high-speed transit rather than drive. As a percentage, that is fairly low, but it projects out to more than 310,000 car commuters in our region, according to the PSRC. Can you imagine the impact on rush-hour traffic if that many cars disappeared from the roads?

It’s also notable in the data that the carrot is a bit more powerful than the stick when it comes to weaning commuters from their solo-driving habits, at least in King County. Timesaving high-speed transit beat out $5 gas prices as the top response here. In the three other counties, though, gas prices were No. 1.

In King and Snohomish counties, high-speed transit got about double the response of HOV lanes, even though each would save commuters the same amount of time per trip. Most people, if they aren’t driving alone, don’t want to be in a car at all.