Why commute a long distance and spend lots of time in a car or on a bus or train and money on gasoline or public transportation tickets when work can be done from a home office desk a few steps away?
For years, employees did what was needed to get to their offices and the best jobs they could find. At the same time, they purchased housing farther away due to rising home sales prices. The result was an increase in “super commuters” who might take 90 minutes or more—and each way daily, going from 3.2 million in 2010 to 4.6 million in 2019. That represented a big uptick of 45%.
But the pandemic caused a big change as work shifted from corporate offices to homes and other close locations. The number of super commuters dropped to 3.1 million in 2021, according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s “American Community Survey” and to Apartment List, which compiled and analyzed results. The drop off is most visible San Francisco, Philadelphia, Chicago, St. Louis, Nashville and Kansas City. The San Jose metro area saw the nation’s biggest increase in remote work with numbers climbing by 582% in that time.
Super commuters Still Exist
But these super-traveler warriors have not vanished from roads, trains and buses, particularly near the country’s most expensive markets, including the San Francisco Bay Area and New York City. Stockton, Calif., 82 miles from San Francisco’s downtown financial district and 59 miles from Silicon Valley, still has the highest super-commuting rate at 7.4%, attributable to the area’s serious housing affordability challenge, with the average nationwide being 2%. The number of remote workers more than tripled between 2019 and 2021, going from 5.7% to 17.9%.
New York City ranked fourth in the super-commuter rankings at 4.1%, following Riverside, Calif., at 5.3%, which borders Los Angeles, and Poughkeepsie, N.Y., in third place at 5.2%, which is about two hours north of NYC. Other California cities made the list, along with some scattered elsewhere. Bridgeport, Conn., ranked fifth at 3.2%, Bakersfield, Calif., at 2.89%, Sacramento, Calif., at 2.7%, Allentown, Penn., at 2.7%, Lakeland, Fla., at 2.5% and Winston-Salem, N.C., at 2.5%.
The overall drop represented good news for workers who earn between $25,000 and $50,000 and may have a harder time filling their car’s gasoline tank and paying car maintenance and insurance costs or incurring regular public transportation fees. Their super-commuter numbers fell between 2019 and 2021 from 2.1% to 1.7%. Historically, super commuting has been more widespread among high earners earning upwards of $100,000. Their numbers also fell in that time frame from a much higher 4.4% to half that number or 2.2%, revealing how much they have benefited from the work from home trend.
Transit riders have been more likely to undertake 90-plus minute commutes. By 2021, they were more than three times as likely to remain super commuters as those who traveled by car with their respective share at 6.8% versus 2.1%.
What About Hybrid Workers?
The survey was not able to consider hybrid workers who divided their time between home and work, and often not evenly or in a consistent pattern. Their numbers may therefore be more widespread than fully remote arrangements. according to sources such as WFH Research. Some remote workers also commute periodically and might be better classified as part-time super commuters. Time will tell whether remote work further alters commute times and makes even more remote locations appealing, according to the report.