Top 5 Cities Where People Drive the Longest to Work

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

If it feels like you’re spending an increasing amount of your day just getting to and back from work, you’re not alone. The average American worker spends about 50 minutes of each day, or just over four hours a week, commuting to and from work, a number that’s been creeping upward over the past few decades. Average commutes are now roughly 30 minutes longer than they were in 1990, according to a report from the New York City Comptroller.

Whether you drive, take the train, or carpool, all that time in transit takes a toll. Studies have shown that commuting, especially long commutes, takes a toll on people’s relationships, physical health, and overall well-being. It also comes with a steep economic cost. American workers spend 4.1% of their income on commuting costs, according to research by the Brookings Institution. For someone earning the U.S. median household income of $52,250 per year, that works out to roughly $2,142 every year.

Looking at the out-of-pocket expenses associated with commuting only scratches the surface of the real cost of getting to and from the office. In 2011, traffic congestion cost Americans $121 billion in lost time and extra fuel costs, according to the Texas A&M Transportation Institute’s (TTI) 2012 Urban Mobility Report. That worked out to an extra cost of $818 per commuter every year, a number that the TTI expect to increase to $1,010 by 2020.

The bottom line: Commuting costs Americans a lot in terms of increased spending on gas, poorer health, and lost productivity. But some people are paying a bigger price than others. Here are the five biggest American cities with the worst weekly commutes, based on research by the Office of New York City Comptroller.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

5. Baltimore, MD

Average weekly commute: 4 hours, 51 minutes

Baltimore is the smallest city on our list, with a population of just over 622,000, but that doesn’t mean that residents don’t have to endure long commutes. The relatively long commute times in Maryland’s largest city are no surprise when you consider that the state as a whole has the second-longest average commute in the U.S. Long commutes seems to be a problem all over the region — workers in nearby Washington, D.C., had weekly commutes averaging 4 hours and 49 minutes, almost as long as those in Baltimore.

Baltimore also has more workers living outside the city than any other city in the country, which could be helping to drive commute times up. Nearly 13% of people who worked in the city had one-way commutes of an hour or more, according to U.S. Census data, well above the 8% of commuters in the U.S. as a whole who spend an hour or more getting to work in the morning.

4. San Francisco

Average weekly commute: 4 hours, 57 minutes

San Francisco has the third-worst traffic in the U.S., according to Inrix, and the average city resident spends the equivalent of seven eight-hour workdays a year stuck in gridlock. Some of the region’s worst commutes were on roads leading into or out of San Francisco or Silicon Valley. To make the trip to work easier on their employees who live and work in the region’s most congested areas, companies like Google have fleets of buses to shuttle employees from their homes to the office. That may take some cars off the road, but it also has the effect of creating a second, private transit system just for the city’s wealthy, critics say, and may also be driving up rents in areas where the buses stop.

Long commutes and congestion may even be having an effect on where new Bay Area businesses decide to set up shop. Some startups are now looking to open offices in cities like Oakland and Berkeley, according to a report in the San Francisco Chronicle, in part because it makes for an easier commute for workers who live in the region’s East Bay.

Walking up stairs

Source: iStock

3. Philadelphia

Average weekly commute: 5 hours, 1 minute

Philadelphians spent roughly one hour per day commuting, giving them the third-longest average weekly commute in the U.S. Traffic congestion in this East Coast city costs drivers up to $44 per week depending on the routes they drive, according to TRIP, a national transportation research group. But those who are lucky enough to live and work in the city’s urban core have far shorter commutes. Forty-two percent of people who live in Philadelphia’s Center City neighborhoods also worked in the same general area. That proximity to jobs shrinks their average daily commute to just 20 minutes.


Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty Images

2. Chicago

Average weekly commute: 5 hours, 25 minutes

Chicago has some of the worst traffic in the U.S. The country’s third-largest city was also its seventh-most congested, according to the TTI. All that time in traffic cost Chicagoans $1,153 per year.

Gridlock on highways and city streets isn’t the only reason people who work in the Windy City have long commutes. Like New York, Chicago has a relatively high percentage of commuters who rely on public transit — 26.7%, according to U.S. Census data. That might explain why the city has the second-longest average weekly commute time in the U.S., since people who take public transit have average commutes nearly double that of people who drive alone to work. But some of those transit riders may be happier than their driving counterparts. A 2014 study found that people who use commuter rail to get to work were far more satisfied with their commutes than people who drove or took the bus.

Source: Thinkstock

Source: Thinkstock

1. New York City

Average weekly commute: 6 hours, 18 minutes

New Yorkers have the longest commute times of any major U.S. city, and as a result the longest average work week, at just over 49 hours. Unlike many Americans, New Yorkers aren’t generally suffering from long commutes because they’re stuck in traffic.

Nearly 60% of people in New York rely on buses, subways, trains, or ferries to get to their jobs, and these lengthy trips on public transit are pushing up the commute time for many residents. People who rely on trains (but not the subway) as their primary way of getting to and from work have average weekly commutes of 10 hours and 40 minutes, while subway riders spend an average of 7 hours and 51 minutes each week in transit. New Yorkers who drive have significantly shorter weekly commutes — 5 hours and 39 minutes, on average. But by far the worst off are those who rely on ferries, who have average weekly commutes of 11 hours and 14 minutes.

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