- Buffalo, NY steals the spot as the best metro in the U.S. for commuting
- San Jose, CA falls to third place as the best metro for commuters, while Riverside, CA, Los Angeles, CA and San Francisco, CA are the three least-friendly metros for commuters across the nation
- Longer commutes mean higher commute-related costs covering maintenance and fuel
- Shorter commutes and hybrid work result in a healthier environment as CO2 emission levels are smaller
Long commute times have always been an issue for workers in the US. Long distances, rush hour and a majority choosing to drive to work have all contributed to workers wasting a lot of their time driving to and from work. While the pandemic has led to a new normal of working remotely, this hasn’t necessarily led to a shorter commute time, especially now that return to office initiatives are increasing.
Since commuting is inevitable, we wanted to find out which metro areas are doing best in terms of how much time workers spend on the road, CO2 emissions and costs associated with maintenance and fuel.
It would be easy to assume that the number of commuters in an area plays a huge role in the amount of time one spends driving to and from work, since the volume of drivers on the road during specific times, especially morning and afternoon rush hours, should be directly proportional to how many commuters are in that area.
However, this is only one aspect of long commute times, and making this assumption is not necessarily accurate. The 10 best metros for commuters are neither the most nor the least commuter populated, but they are the ones that have the smallest population overall. And in turn, they are also the ones where the mean travel time to and from work, is the shortest.
Buffalo, NY is the Best Metro for Commuters
The best metro area for commuters in the US is Buffalo, NY, with a mean travel time of 20.3 minutes, one way. While the commuter population represents 40% of the total population in the area, only 2.3% of them spend more than 60 minutes driving to or from work. This, along with having the shortest commute time and minimal maintenance costs associated with commuting put it at the top of the list.
Buffalo, NY and Hartford, CT, sixth in our top, are the only two metro areas from the Northeast that made the top ten, the latter with an average travel time of 23.4 minutes. In Buffalo, only 2.3% of commuters spend more than 60 minutes travelling to work, while in Hartford, 4.2%.
The shorter commute times also mean lower commuting costs. For instance, in Buffalo, commuting to work entails spending 1.8% of the average $56,670 income on maintenance and fuel costs, about $1,034 per year. In Hartford, such costs amount to 1.5%, or $1,083, where the average annual income is around $71,201.
Milwaukee, WI, Minneapolis, MN, Kansas City, MO and St. Louis, MO among Best 5 for Commuters
Four metro areas from the Midwest are in the list of the best metros for commuters. Those include Milwaukee, WI, Minneapolis, MN, Kansas City, MO and St. Louis, MO. Milwaukee is second in our top, with an average travel time of 21.6 minutes. In this metro, only 3% of commuters spend more than 60 minutes on a one-way commute.
The costs associated with commuting in Milwaukee are 1.6% ($1,068) of the average $66,742 annual income. Minneapolis is sixth in our list. Here, commuters spend an average of 23.4 minutes commuting to work per day, with 3.7% commuters spending 60 minutes or more. Commuters in Minneapolis spend $1,290 on maintenance and fuel costs related to commuting, which is about 2% of the average $64,612 annual income.
San Jose, CA and Salt Lake City, UT take third and fourth places in our top ten, with Las Vegas, NV rounding out the only three metros from the West in our top ten list. San Jose commuters spend an average 23.7 minutes traveling to work and 5.2% spend more than 60 minutes. They also spend $1,490 on commuting costs, or 1.6% of the average $94,102 income.
In Salt Lake City, commuting one-way requires about 21.7 minutes, with only 3.2% of commuters spending more than 60 minutes on the road. Here, maintenance costs and fuel due to commuting result in 1.9% of the average $60,726 annual income, or $1,140.
California Home to the Least-Friendly Metros for Commuters
The list of the worst metros for commuters starts with Riverside, CA. Here, commuters spend on average 32.4 minutes commuting one way and 16.4% spend more than 60 minutes. Cost associated with commuting are around $1,603, or 3.4% of the average $46,891 annual income. Two other metro areas from California made the list: Los Angeles in second place and San Francisco in third place. In Los Angeles, the average one-way commute is about 28.2 minutes and 9.3% of commuters spend more than an hour on the road. Commuting here costs workers about 2.5% of their average $57,802 income, or $1,452. San Francisco commuters spend about 28.3 minutes on the road and $1,569 on maintenance and fuel costs; 1.9% of the average $83,408 income. Of the total number of commuters, 9.6% spend more than an hour on a one-way commute to or from work.
San Jose, the Only California Metro in Top Best for Commuters
So, how come San Jose came in third as the best metro for commuters? Even though these four metro areas all have a similar share of commuters, there are some big differences when it comes to commuting in each. For instance, while in San Jose the average travel time to work is 23.7 minutes, in Riverside it's almost 10 minutes longer. Also, the share of commuters that spend more than 60 minutes driving to work is more than three times higher in Riverside than it is in San Jose. San Francisco and Los Angeles have similar numbers in both aspects, although commuting in both metros takes about 5 minutes longer than in San Jose and there are about 4% more commuters travelling for 60 minutes or more. This is due to the long distances that commuters must travel in Riverside, Los Angeles and San Francisco, which lead to longer commute times, higher costs and more CO2 emissions.
The South is the Least Friendly Region for Commuters, With 6 Metros on the List
There are six Southern cities in the top ten worst metros for commuters: Orlando, FL, Miami, FL, Houston, TX, Birmingham, AL, Atlanta, GA and Nashville, TN. Orlando falls in fourth place as the worst metro for commuters with an average travel time to work of 28.3 minutes and 8% of commuters spending 60 minutes or more. Commuting here results in maintenance and fuel costs of $1,198 per year, or 2.6% of an annual $45,505 income. Miami is fifth with 28.1 minutes spent driving on average and 7.9% commuters spending more than an hour. This results in costs amounting to $1,114, or 2.1% of an annual $52,399 income.
New York metro area is not the worst for commuters, but it nevertheless landed in sixth worst place. Commuting here takes about 29.8 minutes one way and 11.5% of commuters spend more than 60 minutes on the road. Commuters here spend 1.6% of their annual $67,100 income on maintenance and fuel costs, about $1,088.
The more time a person spends on the road, the higher the impact on the environment. While green cars are becoming a more popular choice for drivers, unfortunately, the number of such cars is still small compared to gas-fueled cars. As a result, commuting to and from work leaves an ugly mark on the environment. A longer commute, both in distance and time is directly proportional to the amount of CO2 released into the environment. So, which metros are most eco-friendly?
Metros with the Most Eco-Friendly Commute
Virginia Beach, VA is the most eco-friendly, having the smallest number of CO2 emissions caused by commuting. Driving to and from work generates on average 2,403 lbs of CO2 per year, for every 10 miles of commute. In other words, 50 mature trees are needed to offset this level of CO2 emissions, which are emitted by a single commuter. This metro falls in 17th place overall as the best metro for commuters, with an average travel time to work of 23.8 minutes. However, with hybrid work becoming a new normal and many choosing not to work from the office every day, the level of CO2 emissions per year decreases. In fact, working remote one day per week, reduces the overall pollution associated with CO2 emissions by 20%, or 481 lbs in Virginia Beach.
Raleigh, NC is the second most eco-friendly with a total of 2,414 lbs of CO2 released per year, per commuter driving for 10 miles. Coming in 13th place in our top for best metros for commuters, where one spends an average 26.7 minutes on the road, choosing to work remote one day per week can prove time, cost and CO2 emission efficient, with 483 lbs less emissions per year.
Atlanta, GA, which is one of the worst metros for commuters, is actually third in our top for most eco-friendly metros. Commuting here generates 2,421 lbs of CO2 for the average 10-mile daily commute, which requires 50 mature trees to absorb it. While commuters here spend on average 29.5 minutes driving to work, the lower level of traffic congestion and higher average speed cut down the CO2 emissions compared to other metros for the same 10-mile daily commute. Choosing to work from home one day per week in Atlanta can reduce the number of CO2 emissions by 484 lbs per year.
The other two metro areas where commuting generates the lowest levels of CO2 emissions are Memphis, TN and Indianapolis, IN, both with 2,427 lbs per year.
Least Eco-Friendly Metros
Three metro areas from California take the lead with the highest levels of CO2 emissions per year. San Francisco is the worst with 2,877 lbs, requiring 59 trees to offset the emissions for each commuter in the city. Looking at the overall ranking, it falls in second place as the worst metro for commuters. Working remote even one day per week can help reduce the yearly CO2 emissions by 575 lbs.
New York falls in second place due to having 2,683 lbs of CO2 emissions associated with commuting. This requires 55 trees to offset the level of emissions generated by just one commuter. Working only four days from the office as opposed to the full week can help reduce the level of pollution associated with CO2 by 537 lbs.
Third on the list is San Diego, CA, which is also 27th in our overall top, with 2,665 lbs of CO2 emissions. Also, from California, Los Angeles falls in fifth place of the least eco-friendly metros, with 2,650 lbs of CO2 released into the air due to commuting. One commuter, working remote for just one day per week can help reduce emissions by 533 lbs in San Diego and 530 lbs in Los Angeles.
Finally, our top 5 least eco-friendly metros for commuters includes Austin, TX in fourth place, with 2,659 lbs of CO2 emissions per year. This means that 55 trees are needed to offset these emissions, a number which can be reduced if commuters choose to work from home at least one day per week, saving at least 532 lbs of emissions.
Despite the strong shift towards a flexible, hybrid work schedule, commuting will probably never cease to exist as some jobs simply require workers in the office. Furthermore, while remote work has its benefits, the importance of in-person collaboration is key to the well-being of a company and its employees. With this idea in mind, commuting is likely to continue to take up time from workers' lives, but how much time remains an individual determination.
- The analysis includes the top 50 largest U.S. metro areas by population.
- For this analysis, we looked at data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2021 ACS 1-Year Estimate, specifically: the total population, total number of commuters, number of commuters traveling 60+ minutes (by car, truck, van).
- The term "commuters" refers to workers 16 and over who do not work at home.
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