Travel Trends

I-84, Fishkill, New York

Knowing how and why people travel is central to helping us shape our transportation system to meet current and future needs. To understand these travel dynamics, we sought to answer two basic questions:

  • What are the current trends in our travel behavior (how and why we travel)?
  • How do we expect these travel trends to change in the future?

To answer these questions, we reviewed data from a variety of sources to learn about the nature of travel in our county. Below is a summary of those key trends, their implications, and ideas for how we might address them.

Trend 1. Continued preference for personal vehicles

The personal vehicle will remain the preferred mode of transportation in our county for the foreseeable future. Recent estimates show that over 81 percent of all trips in Dutchess County, and from 76-89 percent of work commutes, are made by personal vehicle; rates that have remained largely unchanged since at least 1980. And while our population has declined during the past decade, we have still seen a steady increase in the number of vehicles in the county, with our passenger vehicle inventory growing by five percent (9,500) from 2010-2018. Unless our development patterns and preferences change substantially, transit, walking, and bicycling are unlikely to be feasible for many trips, especially outside our cities, villages, and town centers.

Our preference for personal vehicles will require us to maintain our roads and bridges in a state of good repair, while also striving to make them as safe and efficient as possible. But improving the safety and efficiency of our system not only applies to infrastructure, it also applies to the vehicles that use it. Given that our county will still rely on the personal vehicle for travel, it will become increasingly important for us to promote and expand the use of safer and more energy efficient vehicles (such as connected and electric vehicles). However, a transportation system that caters to vehicles can exclude those without access to one, including older, younger, and lower income residents, and persons with disabilities. We must therefore ensure that their transportation needs are not overlooked.

Trend 2. More people working from home

Though working from home remains the exception in Dutchess County, it has been steadily increasing through the decades: from two percent of workers in 1990 to an estimated six percent in 2018. Post-COVID, we can expect to see even more people working from home as institutions become more flexible with schedules and workers settle into telecommuting – more so for roughly a quarter of the county’s workforce who work in sectors that can likely support working from home (i.e. office-based work). Many workers, notably essential education, construction, medical, and retail workers, will not have that flexibility, and in some cases, these very workers are the lowest-paid.

A shift to more telecommuting may help ease morning and evening rush hour peaks on major highways and transit systems. However, we will need to watch future long-distance commuting trends, especially among office-based workers, since they tend to work in jobs conducive to telecommuting. This includes those who normally commute to the New York City area by Metro-North Railroad: a permanent shift to telecommuting among this group may lessen demand for commuter rail. But despite the continued growth in telecommuting, a large share of our workforce will commute. Within this commuter population, some will require low cost transportation options to help offset lower wages.

Trend 3. People will still travel for many reasons, and not only for work

Factors such as where we live, shop, and learn are equally, if not more important than where we work when understanding the nature of travel in our county. Commuting, though much looked at, represents only 13 percent of all trips in Dutchess County. Traveling home, whether from work, shopping, or other purposes, is the main reason why we travel – making up 35 percent of trips in the county (in fact, more people travel to shop than work). And as the reasons we travel vary, so do the distances travelled, and time spent traveling. On average, Dutchess residents travel the farthest so they can earn a living (11 miles) but spend the most time traveling for medical care (38 minutes). Trip dynamics also change by mode: people tend to drive alone when using a vehicle to commute, but have passengers when driving for recreational or social purposes.

For now, we expect these trends to mostly hold true for the foreseeable future, though we may see less commuting due to teleworking, especially for long distance travel by commuter rail, fewer shopping trips due to increased home deliveries, and fewer school trips due to online/distance learning. We still don’t know how these changes will manifest themselves across our county, though one long-term implication might include a lessened need to build out our network to accommodate peak commuter periods.

Trend 4. Growth in ride-hailing services

We can expect ride-hailing to become more popular in general, as people become more comfortable with this service model and the technology. Uber and Lyft, which began operating in Dutchess County in 2017, have become increasingly popular travel options. And though originally concentrated in the county’s more populous areas around Beacon and Poughkeepsie, these services now reach into the county’s rural areas. Ride-hailing is often used by college students and tourists for entertainment and dining-related trips, but these services are gradually being used for food shopping and other basic trips by full-time residents.

The growing acceptance of ride-hailing services will expand transportation options for older residents, including those who choose to age in place, plus others with limited vehicle access (either by choice or necessity). We are unsure of the potential impact on traffic that the increased use of ride hailing might have on our denser downtowns. As a new piece of the transportation picture, it’s too early to know its true impact on local travel behavior, but is something we will continue to monitor.

Trend 5. Slowing growth in Vehicle Miles Traveled

Overall travel activity in Dutchess County will grow more slowly than previously estimated. Vehicle Miles Traveled (VMT), a standard measure of overall vehicle use, represents the sum of miles driven by all vehicles in an area. Our previous 2016 transportation plan estimated that total county VMT would grow by 19 percent from 2020-2045; however, revised projections for 2020 show growth slowing to 13 percent by 2045 – primarily due to lower population and employment estimates. And VMT may stay flat or even decline in coming years: Federal estimates for mid-2020 showed a substantial 33 percent decrease in VMT for New York State, compared to mid-2019.

Other impacts to future VMT may stem from changes in land use patterns and the economy, and in the growth of on-demand deliveries, ride-hailing services, and autonomous vehicles. Whatever scale these changes take, our estimate of future VMT implies that we will not need to add highway capacity – i.e. build new roads – but instead focus on making the existing system as efficient as possible. Slowing VMT also presents us with an opportunity to focus on maintaining our roads and bridges, while also benefitting from lower greenhouse gas emissions and improved air quality.

Our Role

Based on what we’ve learned about these future travel trends, our role could include the following:

  • Promote and expand transportation choices for those without access to a vehicle, focusing on public transit, walking and bicycling opportunities, ridesharing services, and even autonomous vehicles.
  • Work with ride-hailing companies to help reach older adults, young adults, and others with limited vehicle access, to include those living in rural parts of the county.
  • Monitor the impacts of telecommuting on our system, notably for commuter rail operations, and adjust capacity as needed.
  • Promote smart land use policies to help reduce vehicle travel and congestion, and support transit, walking, and bicycling.
What We Heard

"I can't imagine how I could function without a car. If my car broke down, I could still afford rent. But I can't imagine what people with less resources do. It's got to be incredibly difficult."

- Moving Dutchess Forward survey