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2020 Commuter Survey

Virginia Tech’s biennial Commuter Survey provides insights into Blacksburg campus affiliates’ travel behaviors. The fourth version of this survey, administered by the Alternative Transportation Department, launched on Jan. 2, 2020 and remained open until Dec. 18, 2020.

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On March 13, 2020, shortly after the survey launched, nearly all of campus closed down and transitioned to virtual instruction and remote working in response to COVID-19. The university remained in this state until early August 2020, just before the start of the fall semester. While the survey was still available for responses during this time, very few responses were collected. Transportation modes of all affiliates drastically changed or were eliminated altogether. Students were sent home, most faculty and staff began teleworking, and all affiliates stopped commuting as they normally would. Since the survey asked questions in present tense, responses received after March 13 were vastly different than they likely otherwise would have been. This altered both the survey response rate and data collected.

As a result, data from this survey show a different trend from previous surveys. There was a dramatic decrease in the number of responses when compared to previous versions. The 2018 Commuter Survey had 1,452 participants, while the 2020 version only garnered an initial 691 participants. After the data was cleaned up, 20 responses were removed due to no listed affiliation with Virginia Tech; participants who provided this answer for their affiliation were not allowed to answer any more questions, providing no data. An additional 42 responses were removed because the participants only answered the affiliation question, resulting in only 629 valid responses.

Survey Participants Number of Participants Total Affiliates Response Rate
Faculty 154 5,002 3.1%
Staff 210 3,566 5.9%
Students 265 37,010 0.7%
Total 629 45,578 1.4%

As the table above details, the responses represent 1.4% of all Virginia Tech affiliates associated with the Blacksburg campus. It should be noted that the total number of Virginia Tech faculty and staff includes employees with primary affiliation at other Virginia Tech locations. Data specific to the Blacksburg campus is not currently available. That being said, this still represents a very low response rate, especially compared with previous surveys.

Faculty members make up 24% of the survey participants; staff make up 33%; and students make up 42%. This compares to 11%; 8%; and 81% of total campus affiliates, respectively. At a 95% confidence level, this sample size has a 4% margin of error. With the majority of the Virginia Tech community no longer residing or commuting to campus because of COVID-19, the responses should be viewed with the understanding that they are likely atypical of their commuting behaviors outside a pandemic environment. At least 3,100 faculty and staff had a telework agreement in place for the 2020 fall semester. This compares to just 113 telework agreements in early 2020. Furthermore, data from Blacksburg Transit shows that their ridership is down roughly 83% when compared to the previous year.

  Students Faculty/Staff
SOV 35.9% 74.3%
Walk 15.7% 1.9%
Bike 24.2% 7.5%
Carpool 2% 8.8%
Bus (Valley Metro) 1% 1.9%
Bus (BT) 19.7% 1.9%
Other 1.5% 1.1%

Both on-campus and off-campus students showed similar tendencies with their chosen primary mode of transportation by relying on single-occupancy vehicles (SOVs) over all other modes of transportation. Bicycling, riding BT, and walking round out the top four. Every option beyond that came in at less than 2%. The “Other” category includes skateboarding and riding a motorcycle.

Faculty and staff overwhelmingly chose SOVs as their primary mode of transportation. All other options came in at less than 10%. They are nearly twice as likely to use an SOV as students. The “Other” category includes riding a motorcycle and moped. It stands to reason that the Alternative Transportation Department could benefit from focusing more on campus employees moving forward. Highlighting the cost savings associated with carpooling, riding transit, bicycling, and walking may help convince some to make the switch from an SOV.

With the onset of COVID-19, social distancing measures and other mandatory safety orders were put in place and Virginia Tech had to shut down campus for the majority of 2020. This led to virtual learning and teleworking, reducing the need for many people to commute. Utilization of all transportation modes dropped drastically. When travel started picking up again, most people relied on their personal vehicles, opting to drive alone rather than share space with others. Overall, participants seem to be aware of the variety of options available for alternative transportation. Over the past six years, students have opted to ride transit and bicycle more often, with a corresponding drop in SOV usage. Focusing on continuing this trend will further decrease SOV use. Reaching out to faculty and staff to increase their knowledge of alternative transportation options, and constructing more and safer infrastructure for bicyclists, transit riders, and pedestrians should help to sway more people towards alternative transportation options.