Commuting Time Exceeds Vacation Time

April 26, 2005
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WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. workers spend on average more than 100 hours commuting to and from work every year, according to the latest American Community Survey released by the U.S. Census Bureau.

According to the study, the average commute time for workers nationwide was 24.3 minutes. The average commute has varied by only two or three minutes since the Census Bureau began conducting the annual survey five years ago.

The study revealed that the time spent commuting to work exceeds by more than 20 hours the average two weeks of vacation time — approximately 80 work hours — taken by employed Americans each year.

Residents of New York state and Maryland have the longest commutes in the nation, with average commute times of 30.4 minutes and 30.2 minutes, respectively, the survey found.

“This annual survey information on commuters and their work trips and other transportation-related data will help local and state agencies maintain, improve, plan and develop the nation’s transportation systems,” said Louis Kincannon, director of the Census Bureau, in a prepared statement.

Kincannon added that employers might find the survey data useful to help them “gain a better understanding of the commuting patterns of their employees.”

U.S. workers like to commute to work alone. The survey found that more than 77 percent of workers drove to work by themselves. Nearly 11 percent carpooled, and fewer than 5 percent of all workers used public transportation.

The data show that U.S. workers still prefer using their own cars, but that could change with the recent steep increases in gasoline prices. While initial statistics show that recent high prices have done little to change commuting patterns, some workers are definitely feeling the pinch of driving to work — especially on long commutes.

Demand for fuel-efficient “hybrid” cars is growing at a rapid pace, and more cities are considering improving public transportation systems and offering tax incentives to employers who encourage telecommuting and rideshare programs.

“Data from the American Community Survey will provide valuable assistance to government agencies that want to work with employers to provide the transportation and public services programs,” Kincannon added.

In ranking large cities (with populations of 250,000 or more), New York (38.3 minutes); Chicago (33.2 minutes); Newark, N.J. (31.5 minutes); and Riverside, Calif. (31.2 minutes), had the nation’s longest average commute times. Chicago, Riverside and Los Angeles were the only cities ranked in the top 10 that were not located on the East Coast. Among the 10 cities with the highest average commutes, New York and Baltimore had the highest percentage of people with “extreme commutes,” with 5.6 percent of commuters spending 90 minutes or more getting to work.

In contrast, workers in the following cities had the shortest commute times: Corpus Christi, Texas (16.1 minutes); Wichita, Kan. (16.3 minutes); Tulsa, Okla., (17.1 minutes); and Omaha, Neb. (17.3 minutes).

The Census Bureau began its American Community Survey program in 2000 and currently mails approximately 250,000 surveys a month nationwide. Each month the survey focuses on a different topic, such as transportation, housing, education and personal finances.    

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