It’s Not Just You: Average Commute Times Hit A New Record In 2018

The problem has dramatically worsened in the past decade

It's Not Just You: Average Commute Times Hit A New Record In 2018
[Photo credit: Sandy Kemsley via Flickr]

Americans spend more than nine days commuting.

Commuting to work sucks. Not only does it suck, but it’s actually getting worse, according to U.S. Census Bureau data. The Washington Post cited data released in September 2019, showing that the average American worker’s commute reached a record 27.1 minutes in 2018.

The average American worker spends 20 more minutes per week commuting than they did a decade ago. In fact, over the span of a full year, U.S. commuters spend more than nine days, or 225 hours, in traffic. While the report cites commuter times since 1980, it is worth noting that data from 1980 to 2000 came from the ten-year census. From 2007 onward, estimates were done by the American Community Survey, a more frequent source of data for the Census Bureau.

According to the report, much of the shift comes from a rise in the number of workers with longer commutes. In 2010, about 8 percent of workers had commutes that were 60 minutes or more. In 2018, that share went up to 10 percent. 4.3 million workers have commutes longer than 90 minutes, rising 23 percent from 2010 (3.3 million).

Some urban populations have exploded in recent years, and current infrastructure just can’t keep pace.

Population and infrastructure issues

A large part of the issue stems from urban development. New housing in cities can’t come fast enough, not to mention cities are getting more expensive. That forces workers out into the suburbs in search of affordable housing.

Transit and infrastructure isn’t keeping pace with growth, either. Many city governments put off crucial infrastructure upgrades, increasing the strain on systems that weren’t designed to handle the severe traffic levels we saw in 2018.

Washington, D.C. has one of the worst commute times in the nation, the Washington Post states. Daily metro ridership fell 17 percent in the past decade, even though the population increased by several hundred thousand.

Poorer health, bigger costs

The longer commutes have an effect on worker health and business performance as well. According to research referenced by the Washington Post, workers with longer commute times tend to be less physically active. That leads to higher obesity rates and high blood pressure, particularly as a result of more time spent in a sedentary state commuting back and forth to work. Lengthier commutes also lead to increased employee absenteeism, according to study data.

Traffic congestion costs Americans $166 billion per year thanks to lost time and increased fuel costs, according to a Texas A&M study.

One bright side of the commuting problem most of us live in is the rise in “remote” workers. Some who can manage to do so are eliminating their commutes entirely, opting to work from home instead. Over 5 percent of American workers telecommute, and that number is increasing rapidly. According to Gallup research, employees who work remotely, even on a part-time basis, are more engaged and satisfied with their jobs.

Sadly, we don’t all have the opportunity to work from home. For those that are stuck in traffic every day, there’s at least some solidarity in the fact that you’re not alone.