By the Numbers: Getting to work, Steamboat style

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By the numbers

Steamboat Springs area workforce commute times

■ Less than 5 minutes: 11 percent

■ Five to 9 minutes: 29 percent

■ Ten to 14 minutes: 24 percent

■ Fifteen to 19 minutes: 14 percent

■ More than 20 minutes: 22 percent

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Scott Ford

There was a TV documentary narrated by Groucho Marx called “Merrily We Roll Along.” This 1961 documentary was about how the automobile had supplanted the horse and streetcar in American life. It was Marx who made popular the phrase, “America’s love affair with the automobile.” The phrase captured the role the automobile plays within the American lifestyle. The reality is that privately owned vehicles have been part of America’s collective cultural DNA for more than 100 years.

Counting only light trucks and passenger vehicles, there are almost 23,000 registered vehicles in Routt County. This translates to about 1.2 vehicles for everyone age 16 and older. In comparison to other counties in Colorado that look a lot like us, the ratio in La Plata (Durango) and Gunnison is about 5 percent lower. One possible explanation of the higher ratio in Routt County could be due to the number of part-time residents who keep a vehicle locally for their use when they are here but are not counted in Routt County’s official population statistics.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data, about 75 percent of the workforce in the greater Steamboat Springs area uses a car, truck or van to get to work. Of this group, about 85 percent drive alone as they commute to work. About 14 percent of Steamboat’s workforce regularly uses alternative means of transportation (public transportation, motorcycles, bicycles or walking) as their means of going to work. By comparison, in Boulder, these same alternative means account for 27 percent. One possible explanation for the higher percentage in Boulder is that it does not snow as much there.

In reality, it does not take the Steamboat workforce all that long to get to work. Simply put, about 80 percent of the local workforce spends less than 20 minutes commuting to work.

By comparison, in the Denver area, only 40 percent of the workforce spends less than 20 minutes commuting to work.

According to the Colorado Department of Transportation, there are about 300 miles of roadways in Routt County. This includes roads maintained by the county, the four municipalities located in the county and the state and U.S. highways passing through. These 300 miles do not include seasonal roads or designated National Forest Service roads. On average, the number of miles that are driven collectively on these 300 miles of roadways each day is about 565,000, which translates to more than 206 million miles driven annually in Routt County. In reality, the number of miles driven actually is higher because CDOT usage statistics do not include roadways maintained by the municipalities within Routt County.

(Sources: Colorado Department of Revenue, Colorado Department of Transportation, Colorado Department of Local Affairs and U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey.)

Scott L. Ford has lived in Steamboat Springs for 21 years and is the principal partner in The Pinnacle Economic Research Group. Ford can be reached at scottford@pinnacleeconomics.com.

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Comments

Brian Kotowski 1 year, 2 months ago

Interesting stuff. I would have guessed a larger percentage with longer commutes, given all the worker bees who don't live in town. I also would have pegged the 'alternative' transportation use to have been marginally higher. The one occasion I've had to ride the bus into town it was packed; the driver told me that was the norm during the AM & PM commutes.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 2 months ago

Well, most of the statistics follow pretty directly from the employment numbers and where people live in Routt County. More than half the population lives in SB and probably at least 80% of the jobs are in SB. And probably at least 80% of Routt's population lives within 20 minutes of SB.

I think the most interesting number is that Routt County has two jobs for every 3 residents while the rest of Colorado has two jobs per five residents. That suggests that at least a couple thousand people in Moffat County work in Routt County. And there is no screaming problem of workforce housing.

That suggests to me that local workforce housing is seen by workers as being a regional issue. Workforce housing became a critical local issue in 2007 when there was a shortage of available regional housing that included few vacancies in Craig, Hayden, OC and Stagecoach.

Thus, local affordable workforce housing programs should focus on regional housing units and not providing housing within SB.

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Scott Wedel 1 year, 2 months ago

And since I love giving Scott Ford grief and he seems to like it when I do:

"In comparison to other counties in Colorado that look a lot like us, the ratio in La Plata (Durango) and Gunnison is about 5 percent lower. One possible explanation of the higher ratio in Routt County could be due to the number of part-time residents who keep a vehicle locally for their use when they are here but are not counted in Routt County’s official population statistics."

Two problems with that analysis. First, a 5% difference is not very significant and probably not worth mentioning. Second, the given possible explanation also applies to La Plata and Gunnison counties. Is there some reason to believe that second home owners are more likely to have a Colorado registered car in Routt County than La Plata or Gunnison counties?

Now, there are probably more cars registered per capita in Routt, La Plata and Gunnison counties than the state average (whatever that is) and that difference is probably statistically significant and there is probably a statistical correlation between second home owners and an increased number of vehicles registered per capita in a county.

And btw, since when is a motorcycle considered an alternative way to get to work and grouped with bicycling and walking? And is there a reason behind that grouping?

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