WASHINGTON -The Baltimore/Washington region may have a bad reputation for traffic congestion, but a report released Thursday gave the area high marks for keeping transportation costs down.
The study rated 28 major metropolitan areas, ranking both Washington and Baltimore in the cheapest fourth when it comes to the amount of personal income that area residents have to spend on getting around — including commuting and other trips.
“Driven to Spend” said residents of this area spend about 15 percent of their incomes on transportation, compared to about 18 percent nationwide. It attributed this area’s success, in part, to its good mass transit and efforts to control sprawl.
But the findings were questioned Thursday by an American Automobile Association official, who described the organizations behind the report as “very radical, pro-environment, anti-road” groups.
Lon Anderson, a spokesman for the AAA chapter in the Washington region, also said the area probably scored well because incomes here are so high, not because transportation is good.
Anderson pointed to a recent rise in oil prices as another reason the findings should be questioned, since the study tracked various transportation trends before the increase, in 1998 and earlier.
But Roy Kienitz, a director of one of the two teams behind the project, disagreed. The study was prepared by the Surface Transportation Policy Project and the Center for Neighborhood Technology.
“Income doesn’t seem to be a major factor,” he said, and added that “gasoline taxes and rising prices have no bearing.”
Scott Bernstein, the president of the Center for Neighborhood Technology, said Washington’s Metro system and Baltimore’s bus and light-rail system gave the public commuting options that could keep prices down.
The report looked at costs for everything from car purchases and repairs to insurance and public transportation costs. The rankings themselves came out of two categories: the relationship between mass transportation and highway travel, and the amount of urban sprawl.
Some of the calculations that went into the findings included a comparison of the total mileage of roads versus operating hours of public transportation systems and, to measure sprawl, the number of schools and shopping centers in a set area.
Gigi Kellett, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Public Interest Research Group, said that although the current rankings are encouraging there has been a recent outburst of sprawl that could “hurt Baltimore in the future.”
“People won’t be able to get along with one car if this trend continues,” she said.
The report said Houston residents paid the most to get around, spending just over 22 percent of their incomes on transportation. Houston was followed by Atlanta, Dallas, Miami and Detroit.
Washington ranked 22nd, with people spending an estimated $7,207 of their income on transportation. Baltimore was 26th, with residents forking over 14.7 percent of their incomes, or $5,236, on getting around.
Cheapest of the cities was Honolulu, where the report said residents typically spend $6,136 a year, or 14.4 percent of their incomes, on transportation.