Depending on the job, people use different modes of transportation to get to work. Census data show which common jobs are most and least likely to use public transit.
Here are three occupations you won’t see in the same sentence very often: College professors, housekeepers and computer programmers. Very different jobs, to be sure, but they have at least one thing in common.
Don’t feel bad if you can’t guess what it is. The answer isn’t obvious.
But you’ll find it in 2016 census data: King County residents employed in these three fields rely most heavily on public transit for commuting to work, among the 50 most common occupations.
College professors rank No. 1, with about 28 percent taking some form of transit to get to work — that’s more than twice the King County average of 13 percent. Housekeepers are just a fraction behind, with computer programmers in third place. Rounding out the top 5 are food-preparation workers and software developers, in that order.
Income is, of course, one factor that informs the decision to take transit, which in King County usually means the bus or light rail, but also might include the train, ferry, streetcar, or even the monorail. Owning and operating a car is expensive, and may not be an option for many housekeepers and food-preparation workers. Both jobs average less than $25,000 a year for full-time work in King County.
But the other occupations in the top five are well compensated. In fact, computer programmers and software developers rank among the highest-paid occupations in the county.
There may be a number of reasons why tech workers are more likely than most to take transit, but a major one is certainly access. A lot of tech employers — most notably, Amazon — are located in job centers where transit is plentiful, driving is a major hassle and the cost of parking is astronomical.
Similarly, one reason college professors rank first, surely, is that many colleges and universities are highly accessible by transit.
We’ve looked at the occupations whose workers are the most likely to take transit. But which are least likely?
Some of those with the lowest rate of transit ridership are highly paid professionals, including physicians and surgeons, aerospace engineers, chief executives — they’re all at around four or five percent.
But elementary and middle-school teachers have an even lower rate — 3 percent — and that’s likely because transit is impractical for this occupation. Few schools are located in job centers where there’s easy access to transit.
Almost no real-estate agents and brokers use transit, placing them at the very bottom of the list. Meeting clients, driving to property showings and hosting open houses make having a car essential.
Carpenters and construction workers also rank close to the bottom, and transit may not be a good option for many who have to carry tools or equipment to the job site.
Regardless of occupation, one reason that someone might choose driving over transit is commute times. The average King County commute for a solo driver is around 28 minutes. For transit riders, it’s a lot longer, at 48 minutes on average.
This isn’t unique to the Seattle area. In every major metro, drivers have significantly shorter commutes than transit riders, on average. Data show transit commuters typically spend more time getting to and from transit stations — and then waiting — than they do riding.
So even though driving is a more expensive option — and it’s unquestionably worse for the environment — it’s often more convenient than transit for commuters, depending on where they live, where they work, and the nature of their job. So it’s not surprising that in King County, like nearly everywhere in the U.S., the majority of people drive themselves to work alone in a car. The most recent census data show that almost two-thirds of workers who reside in the county, or nearly 720,00 people, are solo drive commuters.
Public transit is the second most common mode of commuting, but it’s way behind driving, at just 13 percent, or about 150,000 workers.
But let’s end on some good news: With improvements to transit — including a couple new light-rail stations — and a ton of housing development in transit-rich areas, the number of folks commuting via public transportation has increased by more than 40 percent in King County since the start of the decade.
That’s triple the growth rate of the number who drive alone.