Transportation Planning Board

Work Trip Commuting

The growth of major employment and commercial retail centers on the periphery of the Madison area has resulted in a more dispersed work travel pattern. While the downtown Madison/UW-Madison campus area remains by far the largest employment center, there has been very little net increase in employment in the area over the past two decades. As a result, a lower percentage of trips are destined for the central Madison area.

Growth in Dane County and City of Madison employment has outpaced the growth in the resident labor force and this trend is expected to continue. The same trend has occurred in the Cities of Middleton and Monona, though the numbers are much smaller. The labor force from surrounding counties and communities fills the gap in workers by commuting into the county and Madison area on a daily basis.

Around 40,200 workers commute into Dane County from seven adjacent counties, according to 2006-2010 American Community Survey (ACS) data. Of these, about 22,600 commuted to the City of Madison (2006-2008 ACS data). The number of workers commuting into Dane County increased 34% compared to 2000. While the 2006-2010 and 2000 data sources aren’t directly comparable, the numbers are consistent with past trends from decennial Census data. “Reverse commuting” from Dane County to adjacent counties decreased 11% compared to 2000. During the 2006-2010 time period, around 8,000 commuted to adjacent counties, compared to 9,000 in 2000.

Around 67,500 workers commuted to the City of Madison from other Dane County communities in 2011, according to U.S. Census Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics (LEHD) program data. This represented an 8% increase from the 62,600 persons commuting in 2009. The increase in commuting into Madison continues past trends. However, the rate of increase has slowed since 1990 as other communities have attracted more employment.

According to 2008-20011 ACS data, 64% of City of Madison residents and 73% of all Dane County residents drove alone to work, while a total of 31% of city residents and 22% of all county residents carpooled, took public transportation, bicycled or walked. The percentage of City of Madison workers that drove alone to work is significantly higher (71%), reflecting the high numbers of commuters from out of the city and county.

The percentage of City of Madison residents that drove alone decreased from 65% in 2000 to 64.1% during the 2008-2010 time period, the percentage taking public transit increased from 7.2% to 8.7%, and the percentage bicycling increased from 3.2% to 5.2%. The same trend was true for all Dane County residents with the percentage of commuters that drove alone dropping from 74.1% to 72.9% and the percentage of commuters that took public transit, carpooled, and bicycled increasing. The results are within the margin of error for some categories. The shift is likely due in part to the increase in gasoline prices, which spiked in 2008. In 2008, the number of new carpoolers enrolled in the Madison Area TPB’s Rideshare Etc. Program also rose significantly. The continued increase in Metro Transit ridership and steady use of City of Madison bike paths corroborates the relatively small but still significant shift in commuting behavior since 2000.


The percentage of commuters using alternative transportation is much higher for those who live and work in the greater Isthmus area. According to 2007-2011 ACS data, only 41% of residents living in this area (encompassing Census Tracts 9, 11-13, 16-21, 32) drove alone to work, while 14.5% took public transit, 10.5% bicycled, and 24.4% walked to work. More recent data by workplace geography is unavailable, but in 2000 only 54% of those working in the downtown/UW-Madison campus area drove alone to work while 13% carpooled, 11% took public transit, 5% bicycled, and 16% walked.

The average travel time to work for City of Madison and all Dane County residents was 19 minutes and 20.6 minutes respectively, according to 2009-2011 ACS data. The average travel time for workers who drove alone was 19.6 minutes for City of Madison residents and 21.2 for Dane County Residents. Travel times for workers who took public transit were substantially longer—27.8 minutes for City of Madison residents and 29 minutes for all Dane County residents.