The Best Time to Leave for Work According to the Latest Data from the U.S. Census Bureau 

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  • According to the latest data from the U.S. Census Bureau, in 2022 the average one-way commute time (26.4 minutes) is inching closer to pre-pandemic levels.
  • 3 in 5 commuters leave for work between 6 a.m. and 9 a.m., with the rush half-hour being between 7:00 and 7:29 AM, when 19.5 million Americans start their ride to work. 
  • For most of the largest cities in the U.S., leaving for work immediately after the busiest timeslot can save commuters hours per year in travel time
  • For New Yorkers, choosing to leave during the half-hour interval after the busiest one (8:00-8:29 a.m.) can save them nearly 34 hours per year. 

Most remote workers would agree that one of the biggest advantages of not frequenting the office is the chance to avoid traffic. And it’s no wonder – who wouldn’t want to sleep in or comfortably enjoy breakfast and a fresh cup of coffee instead of inching their way to the office? Traffic jams can also cause a lot of unnecessary frustration that may affect our mood for the rest of the day. Of course, we can’t all suddenly skip going to work or fully transition to a home office. Still, statistics show that making slight adjustments to our schedule, if possible, could be a game-changer in the long run. 

Over the past 3 years, an unprecedented number of people shifted to remote work, which automatically put fewer commuters on American roads. As restrictions eased, however, many decided or were required to return to the office, resulting in an uptick in the average commute times.  

According to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, there were around 3 million fewer remote workers in 2022 compared to 2021, which already points to somewhat busier roads last year. As for the total number of commuters, they saw a 7% increase from 2021 to 2022, meaning around 10 million more people traveling to work nationwide. This rise in the number of commuters had a direct impact on how much time employees spend on their way to the office. And with most of them leaving between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m., the question arises: is there a way to avoid the morning rush hour? 

To figure it out, we analyzed the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau covering the total number of commuters, the time of departure for work, and the aggregate time of travel. Here are some of the main highlights from our study. 

Average Commute Time Rising to Pre-Pandemic Levels 

The last ten years have seen a steady increase in commute times year after year, a trend which was temporarily shaken up by the sudden rise in the number of remote workers across the nation. From an all-time high of 27.6 minutes in 2019, the average travel time to work has dropped to just 25.6 minutes in 2021.   

Fast forward to 2022, and we now see commuters spending almost 1 minute more on average on their way to work, regardless of their means of transportation. Despite this slight increase, Americans could reconsider the time they leave for work to make commuting more hassle-free and potentially even save hours in commute time per year.  

3 in 5 Americans Leave for Work Within a 3-Hour Window 

In 2022, more than 136 million workers aged 16 and over were commuting to work each morning, with 61% of them leaving between 6:00 and 9:00 a.m. According to the U.S. Census Bureau data, the busiest timeslot is between 7:00 and 7:29 a.m., when over 14% of total commuters start their ride to work (around 19.5 million people). Because the roads are more packed in that half-hour interval, commuters in most big cities will likely experience longer travel times to work than the national average of 26.4 minutes. 

7:30-7:59 a.m. and 8:00-8:29 a.m. are the next busiest timeslots when 12% (over 16 million) and 11% (over 15 million), respectively, of total commuters leave their homes.  

Across the top 50 largest U.S. cities, 24 cities follow the same commuter distribution pattern, according to which most people leave for work between 7:00-7:29 a.m. 

Texas and California Commuters Prefer the 7:00-7:29 a.m. and 8:00-8:29 a.m. Timeslots 

When we look at the largest cities in California, the 8:00-8:29 a.m. interval seems to be most commuters’ first choice. Around 14 to 16% of all workers in Los Angeles, San Jose, and Oakland get in their cars or hop on the bus during this period. The same half-hour becomes even busier in San Diego, San Francisco, and Long Beach, with up to 18% of all commuters on their way to work at that hour. Only in Fresno, Sacramento, and Bakersfield do roads become more crowded between 7:00 and 7:29 a.m., where early risers are in the majority.  

As for the state of Texas, workers in Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth, and El Paso will find the 7:00-7:29 a.m. interval to be the busiest. Dallas has two similarly busy timeslots, 7:00-7:29 a.m. and 8:00-8:29 a.m., but if you’re commuting in Austin, you can expect packed roads virtually at all hours between 7:00 and 8:29 a.m.  

Morning Rush Hour in New York and Its Boroughs 

The typical noise of the crowded streets has long been a New York City staple, and the morning rush hour is one of the best examples of that. The busiest timeslot here is between 8:00 and 8:29 a.m. when 16% of all NYC commuters go to work. This means no less than half a million New Yorkers actively on the road at that hour. This trend becomes especially visible when we consider the individual boroughs, as Brooklyn, Manhattan, and Bronx all experience peak time during that half-hour interval. In Queens and Staten Island, however, most employees head to work one hour earlier. 

Save up to 34 Hours a Year by Delaying the Departure Time by 30 Minutes 

There are plenty of ways to pass the time and even feel productive while stuck in traffic. Phoning a friend or a family member or listening to an insightful podcast or an immersive audiobook could all help reduce traffic-induced stress. Although these are excellent workarounds, people would still choose to reduce the actual time they waste in traffic if they could, and turns out, that may very well be a possibility in some cases. Our analysis shows that, in some cases, Americans could save significant time by leaving for work 30 minutes later.  

In New York, NY, Commuting Between 8:30-8:59 a.m. can Save You Nearly 34 Hours a Year 

Across the largest cities in the U.S., New York proves to be the most generous with workers who delay their departure time by just 30 minutes. If their schedule allows, NYC residents could avoid the busiest timeslot and save over 33 hours a year by leaving for work between 8:30 and 8:59 a.m., when only 8% of total commuters are on the road.  

Commuting Time in Fort Worth, TX, Shortened by Nearly 32 Hours a Year When Avoiding the Busiest Timeslot 

It’s a common misconception that waking up early helps us avoid peak traffic, and Fort Worth, TX, very well illustrates this. The city is busiest during the 7:00-7:29 interval when 15% of all commuters set off for work, but with only a 30-minute delay to their departure time, workers here can save up to 32 hours a year. It’s one of those cases when using the snooze button can work to our advantage.  

Save over 24 Hours a Year in Denver, CO, by Delaying Your Departure Time

Learning to better navigate heavy traffic in Denver, CO, can also pay off in the long run for its commuters. With a bit of flexibility to their schedule, workers can save more than 24 hours a year by avoiding the 7:00-7:29 a.m. timeslot, when nearly 15% of all employees are on their way to work. This way, you can reap the benefits of less crowded roads in the Mile High City by leaving half an hour later. 

Leave 30 Minutes Later to Save 21 Hours in Annual Commuting Time in Dallas, TX 

Avoiding the heaviest morning traffic can significantly benefit the commuters of Dallas, too. Almost 14% of all employees here are traveling to work between 8:00 and 8:29 a.m. Only half an hour later, however, roads become considerably clearer, and the total number of commuters drops to merely 7%, which automatically saves you 21 hours annually.  

In Washington, D.C., Delaying Your Departure Time Can Save You up to 20 Hours a Year

Commutes in the capital are among the lengthiest in the country, so workers here will be especially tempted to find alternatives and reduce the time they spend on their way to the office. No less than 19% of all commuters use the 8:00-8:29 a.m. interval to get to work, causing the heaviest morning traffic in D.C. Having said that, employees who have the possibility to leave 30 minutes later to work, will shorten their annual commute time by almost 20 hours.  

Staten Island, NY, Commuters Save the Most Amount of Time Annually by Leaving Later 

It’s no secret that New Yorkers experience the longest commutes nationwide, spending around 40 minutes each morning to get to work. The city’s busiest timeslot is generally between 8:00 and 8:29 a.m. when 16% of all commuters are on the road. And as we’ve seen earlier, New Yorkers on average can save up to 34 hours a year with only a 30-minute delay to their departure time.  

When we look at the individual boroughs, however, the busiest timeslots start to vary as do the number of hours that workers can potentially save by delaying their commute.  

For instance, most commuters in Staten Island and Queens leave at the same hour in the morning, more precisely between 7:00 and 7:29 a.m. Still, while workers in Staten Island can save an impressive 36 hours a year by leaving for work 30 minutes later every day, the same action brings no results for people in Queens. 

As for Brooklyn, Manhattan, and the Bronx, they are the busiest during the 8:00-8:29 a.m. timeslot. Things are starting to look up when the workers in each of these boroughs adjust their departure time. By heading to work at 8:30 a.m., they can shorten their annual commute by 28, 25, and 22 hours, respectively.  

Getting around the morning rush hour is no easy feat, especially with a fixed schedule that requires us to arrive at work at the same time every day. As we’ve seen, data from the U.S. Census Bureau showed that the majority of Americans use the 6:00-9:00 a.m. window to get to work each morning, but the busiest timeslots vary from city to city within this 3-hour interval. Our analysis found that, with a bit of flexibility, those commuters who can delay their departure time by merely 30 minutes daily may significantly shorten their annual commute time.

Methodology 

  • For this analysis, we looked at 2022 data from the U.S. Census Bureau, specifically: the working population, time of departure to work, mean travel time to work (minutes) and aggregate travel time to work (minutes). 
  • The analysis includes the top 50 largest U.S. cities by population. 
  • The term "commuters" refers to workers 16 and over who do not work at home. 
  • Time of departure to work and mean travel time to work are calculated for all means of transportation. 
  • Travel time to work refers to the total number of minutes that it usually takes a worker to get from home to work during the reference week. 
  • For the purpose of this analysis, travel time to work refers only to one-way travel. 
  • To determine the mean travel time per timeslot, we divided the aggregate travel time to work by the number of workers leaving home to go to work during that specific timeslot. 
  • To determine the time saved when commuting in a year, we estimated an average number of 250 working days in a year. 

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