EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

September 30, 2012

Rockingham Co. commuters more apt to drive alone

More commuters hit the road alone

By John Toole jtoole@eagletribune.com,
The Eagle-Tribune

---- — DERRY — More Rockingham County workers are driving alone, defying state and national trends as gas prices rise, new U.S Census Bureau figures show.

Numbers released by the Census this month say 83.9 percent of Rockingham County workers are driving alone. That is up 0.1 percent from the 83.8 percent in last year’s report.

Donna Gray is among those workers driving alone, though not by choice. None of the Derry mother’s coworkers in Lowell live in Derry.

At home with her family it is different.

“We drive like a bus,” she said. “We make as many stops as we can.”

“Economically this is tough,” she said, nodding toward the gas pump. “We’re spending a lot more on gas. Now I put in $40. I’ll be lucky if I can get through the weekend on this.”

Nationally, fewer workers are driving alone – 76.4 percent, down 0.2 percent. That’s true in New Hampshire, too – 80.6 percent, down 1 percent.

Laura Bobroff of Derry, refueling in Londonderry last week, admitted it is very surprising to hear that more Rockingham County workers are driving alone.

Her family has resorted to car pooling as much as possible to save money at the pump.

“It’s ridiculous. Look at this, $3.85,” she said as daughter Alice pumped the gas.

The yearly average price for regular gas has gone from $2.348 a gallon to $3.641 nationally since 2009. The New Hampshire price is up from $2.305 to $3.626.

Prices are driving the increase nationally and in New Hampshire for car pooling and mass transit, AAA spokesman Patrick Moody said.

“There is pretty solid evidence gas prices are playing into that,” Moody said.

When her husband isn’t working his construction job in Massachusetts, the Bobroffs park his truck in the driveway. Bobroff and her mother call each other to share rides to the mall.

“It’s a lot less money,” Bobroff said.

“That is a staggering statistic,” Richard Ringwald said of the driving alone figure.

He was at the North Londonderry bus stop shortly after 6 a.m. Thursday, where wife Heather takes the bus to Brookline.

“I don’t know why more people don’t use mass transportation,” Ringwald said.

Ringwald lives in Manchester, a recent transplant from Chicago. Mass transit is popular in Chicago and Ringwald is convinced it makes more sense.

“It is easier to let someone else do the driving,” Ringwald said. “I think a lot of this has to do with people liking their own space.”

Workers commuting alone last week blamed schedules, work duties and personal demands.

“I’ve got two fulltime jobs. I can’t have anyone drive with me. I start at 5 a.m. and finish at 1 a.m.,” Gene Fauteaux of Derry said, while pumping gas on Route 28.

Fauteux supposes he could use mass transit, if there was a system that accommodated his schedule. But there isn’t.

“My hours are crazy,” he said.

William Hunt of Derry said his company, Stonyfield Farm, the Londonderry based yogurt producer, encourages and offers incentives for car pooling, but his family is unable to take advantage.

Wife Stacey works at Elliot Hospital in Manchester and he was dropping son Ryan at school.

“It’s hard,” Hunt said of coordinating the family’s schedules.

Still, some think drivers go it alone because, well, they always have.

“I think it’s habit. People have to have their car,” cle

rk Victoria Stoessel said outside the Londonderry convenience store where she works. “I just started car pooling.”

She said she does it to save money and when she can coordinate schedules with her fellow travelers.

Stoessel sees the commuting public up close and says there is a good reason some drive by themselves.

“There are people who have to drive for their work,” she said.

One of them is Blake Root of Nottingham, who was filling up in Londonderry. He said he has to drive alone because he is a runner for his company.

“Yes, I drive alone most days except the weekends,” Root said.

While more Granite Staters are car pooling, 8.6 percent compared to 7.7 percent, Rockingham County car pooling remained level at 6.4 percent, as did the number nationwide at 9.7 percent.

Katrina Kennett of Quincy was driving alone through New Hampshire on business when she stopped for ga

s in L

ondonderry. But she frequently ride shares at work.

“I tend to car pool twice a week. The company is nice and there is the savings on gas,” Kennett said.

Public transit use, meanwhile, was up nationally at 5 percent, compared to 4.9 percent year over year in the Census figures.

It remained level in Rockingham County at 0.9 percent. But public transit use fell 0.2 percent in New Hampshire from 0.9 percent to 0.7 percent.

State Department of Transportation figures tell a different story about public transit use along the Interstate 93 corridor from Manchester to Logan Airport.

Boston Express passenger counts for August were up 4.2 percent year over year with 32,156 riders.

Park-and-ride lot use also was up for the same period year over year, with parking spaces showing increased occupancy in North Londonderry, Windham and Salem. The Salem lot saw a 13 percent jump.

Tim Sullivan of Litchfield carpooled last week from North Londonderry with fellow construction worker Dave Gerlach. They ride together every day, usually to the Boston area, though they headed north Thursday to Ashland for their work.

“Watch how fast this fills up,” Sullivan said, gesturing toward the parking lot.

He knows it is the price of gas.

“Three years ago, there were hardly any cars,” Sullivan said of the Londonderry park-and-ride. “Go over to Exit 4. That fills up so you can’t find a spot.”

“We take turns driving. We’ve been working together 33 years,” he said. “We just talk.”

DOT transportation specialist Fred Butler speculates the availability of bus service and park-and-ride lots makes car pooling and mass transit more attractive in the I-93 corridor than elsewhere in the county.

“In that corridor specifically, people are commuting year in and year out,” Butler said. “They try the bus and it sticks because they find it is pretty convenient.”

“I take the bus every day to Boston,” Rori Dawes of Londonderry said. “When I first moved here, I didn’t want to be stuck on the bus. Then I would be driving and would see people on the bus sleeping and relaxing.”

She said she much prefers the bus to being stuck alone in traffic. She will read or sleep on the ride, but it’s personal time.

“I do my own personal reading,” Dawes said.

Evan York of Manchester was taking the bus out of North Londonderry as he does every work day.

“This is convenient and you can try to get rest,” York said. “They have wifi and I will check my email.”

The Rockingham County statistic didn’t shock him.

“That’s annoying,” York said. “Sitting on the bus, I’ve consciously tried to count the number of people driving alone. I’d say it is 75 percent. Why not take the bus?”

Ross Nadeau of Manchester was taking the bus in North Londonderry and admitted he would drive alone if he worked locally, rather than in Boston.

But he saves money with mass transit.

“Parking would cost me $100 more every week,” he said. “Plus there is the wear and tear on your car.”

Peter Griffin of Windham, president of the New Hampshire Railroad Revitalization Association, follows transit trends and said the bus service is “hugely successful” and makes the case both for expanding public transit in general and redeveloping passenger rail.

“The prevailing sentiment by a lot of people in New Hampshire, elected and other state officials, is New Hampshire doesn’t have the population base to support public transportation. This dispels that myth,” Griffin said.

York wishes he could ride a train from Southern New Hampshire.

“I would love to see train service,” he said. “I would just like to see other options.”

Telecommuting also may be a developing factor in driving trends, Moody said.

The number of people working at home jumped 0.9 percent to 6.5 percent in Rockingham County.

The percentages were level at 4.3 percent n

ationally and 5.9 percent in New Hampshire.