PSU survey: Drive-alone trips plummet, biking on the upswing

The latest student commute choice survey by PSU shows drop in driving.

A new survey of students at the urban campus of Portland State University shows that drive-alone trips to campus are on the decline, while transit trips remain flat and bike trips swing upward. The “Student Commute Report” is done by the school’s Transportation and Parking Services division. The survey is undertaken for students every other year and it alternates with a similar survey of faculty and staff.

Portland State University-1.jpg

Bikes parked in front of the
student union at PSU.
(Photo © J .Maus)

In the latest survey of a randomly selected group of 6,000 students (with just over a 10% response rate), 11% of them said they biked to campus. That compares to 39% who take transit, 25% who drive alone, and 14% who walk.

According to PSU’s Transportation Options Manager Ian Stude, a mix of factors has resulted in the decline in drive alone trips. He says improved access to transit infrastructure and higher-priced parking have been major factors. “The transit mall didn’t used to reach all the way to PSU… and then we got streetcar through campus in 2001 while at the same time we increased parking costs.”

Survey results show that transit trips have been flat for students, faculty and staff since 2004. About that trend, Stude said he feels “we have in some ways maxed out the number of people we can get onto transit.”

“Biking becomes far more appealing [than transit] because it’s much more economical, especially for students.”
— Ian Stude, Transportation Options Manager at PSU

Another reason more PSU commuters don’t take transit, Stude says, is cost. Even though the school negotiates with TriMet for special rates, Stude says they are beginning to see the limits of that subsidy. “Our transit trip growth has slowed significantly mostly because of cost to the user. It’s reaching a point where it’s still less than driving, but it’s not an easy cost. Biking becomes far more appealing because it’s much more economical, especially for students.”

The same survey given to PSU faculty and staff in 2008, mirrors trends with students.

PSU’s long-term plans include an increase of students from today’s 27,000 to about 40-45,000 in 2030. Stude says that with a “maxed out” transit ridership and the fact that they have no plans to increase car parking, bike trips is where the school is looking to expand.

On that note, similar to how transit infrastructure comes right to campus, Stude sees excellent potential for an even sharper uptick in bike trips once PBOT completes their planned bike projects. The city’s first cycle track is slated for construction this month. That bikeway will create a wide and safe route for people to bike up SW Broadway, directly adjacent to PSU. In addition, there are major bike infrastructure investments being forecast in the upcoming Bike Master Plan update.

Looking toward the future, Stude says he expects a similar increase in bike trips that they saw in transit trips from 2001-2003. “When we look at network planned for bikes in the near future, I think as much as 25% mode share for bikes is completely possible.”

The complete 2009 Student Commute Report is not yet available. You can view past reports here.

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Jonathan Maus (Publisher/Editor)

Founder of BikePortland (in 2005). Father of three. North Portlander. Basketball lover. Car owner and driver. If you have questions or feedback about this site or my work, feel free to contact me at @jonathan_maus on Twitter, via email at, or phone/text at 503-706-8804. Also, if you read and appreciate this site, please become a supporter.

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Matt Picio
14 years ago

Interesting. The faculty & staff decline in single auto trips takes place between 2000-2002 (when streetcar opened), but the student decline didn’t take place until the 2003-2005 timeframe. When did parking costs go up? The other oddity is that the rate of change has been declining for faculty & staff since 2005 (when fuel costs started increasing) but accelerating for students. Why would the rate of change decline for staff when fuel costs *rose*?

Linda Ginenthal
14 years ago

WooHoo! These are great numbers. Great work Ian!

14 years ago

It may be that the faculty and staff is better able to withstand higher fuel prices. They are, being paid while the students generally have a much lower income than even the entry level staff.

People, if they do have the money will pay for convenience, which driving often can be.

Hank Sheppard
Hank Sheppard
14 years ago

The opening of the MAX Yellow Line in May, 2004 plays a role in this too. Look for higher transit ridership with the Yellow and Green to PSU next month.

Opus the Poet
14 years ago

I noticed a higher correlation between transit and car driving than cycling. When transit went up there was an almost identical drop in car driving, with the difference in the higher bike share. But then I used to read a lot of graphs in my old line of work.

14 years ago

I disagree strongly that transit is “maxed” out. The Portland-Milwaukie light rail project has the ability to improve transit access to PSU significantly, as can the Lake Oswego to Portland transit project, which may extend the streetcar to downtown Lake Oswego. Both would provide high capacity rail system extensions which lead directly to PSU with highly competitive travel times compared to automobile driving. Increasing parking costs will likely lead to even greater transit mode share as students decide to either park-and-ride or opt for a transit-only trip with a transfer.

Ian Stude
Ian Stude
14 years ago

For the record:

PSU’s relationship with TriMet has been essential to the growth of our urban campus and our success in reducing the number of single-occupancy vehicle trips to campus. Further incorporating the growth of PSU and growth of the transit system will no doubt bring even more transit users to the doors of our campus.

While we anticipate a growing transit ridership, we are also anticipating rapid growth in the number of students enrolling at PSU. The result is that we will see a greater quantity of trips, especially with the new Green Line MAX coming online, but the transit percentage of mode share will likely continue to make only small incremental increases.

The most important lesson here is that an exemplary transit system was built and now record numbers of people are using it. As the city of Portland moves forward with its new bicycle master plan, we have another opportunity to build a world-class system of transportation infrastructure that will most certainly affect the travel choices of thousands and thousands of people.

As always, PSU is excited and honored to participate in helping shape, inform, and evaluate our city’s efforts to facilitate sustainable transportation.