When OKI CEO Mark Policinski talks to audiences about the arrival of the driverless car, he says two cultural shifts must happen for its successful adoption.

People must be willing to get into a car with no driver. And they must be willing to share that ride with others.

That’s because Policinski and other transportation experts agree: These conditions must be met to make the move to driverless cars and reap their many societal benefits. (but this is a topic for another post).

The era of the driverless car is a long way off. But based on the results of an OKI survey, motorists are in no hurry to share a car … with anyone. And that’s with a driver.

OKI’s 2023 Vehicle Occupancy Survey looked at the region’s vehicle occupancy rates (VOR). These numbers are defined by how many people are in a single car during the weekday morning rush, which is from 7:30 to 8:30.

Observers – both stationary and in vehicles — collected data in 30 locations: 4 Ohio River bridges; 5 freeway locations; 7 Cincinnati Central Business District locations; and14 arteries in Ohio and Kentucky within I-275. OKI conducted the survey for one month in Fall, 2023.

“Our results are in line with the rest of the country,” said Hui Xie, senior engineer/senior planner and author of the study.

According to national surveys, the occupancy rates of passenger cars are falling steadily throughout the U.S., mostly because of the continued drop in household size and an increase in car ownership.

The OKI conducted a similar survey in 1983. Of the 30 locations selected in the 2023 survey,16 of those were counted in the 1983 study.

Comparing the two OKI surveys, the average Vehicle Occupancy Rate (VOR) at Colerain Avenue., at the entrance of Mt. Airy Forest, was 1.27 people per vehicle in 1983 versus 1.19 in 2023. As for freeways, the VOR on 1-71 at Taft Road in 1983 was 1.17 compared with 2023 at1.01.

Xie said, “We attribute the decline of the VOR to the increase in number of vehicles owned per household since 1983, and the work trip mode shift, which is how a person’s form of transportation to work has changed.”

Driving alone in a car, truck or van remains the dominant mode of transportation to work for all workers 16 years and older, according to a 2022 Energy Department report.

Another finding in the report and of interest to OKI: In 2022, 15% of U.S. workers worked from home. The number of workers who worked from home was 4.3% by 2010 before rising sharply due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

No matter the poll or study, people give the same answers why they don’t like to carpool. They say they enjoy their freedom and “alone time” too much to give it up. Others says they like being able to “run errands”, “feared strangers” and “didn’t want to be late for work or make someone else late.”

Understanding vehicle occupancy rates is essential for OKI to better meet the needs of the public and its transportation needs.

“They help our OKI transportation planners better understand how driving to work and carpooling has changed over the last 40 years,” Xie explained. “They also guide our strategies to promote carpooling and ridesharing to relieve congestion, conserve energy and improve air quality.”

— Jim Pickering

View a presentation of the results of the survey.