- In 2021, the average one-way commute time was at its lowest in ten years, with 25.6 minutes, a 2-minute drop from pre-pandemic levels.
- Two-thirds of commuters leave for work between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m., with the rush half-hour being between 7:00 and 7:29 AM, when 18 million Americans leave for work.
- For most of the largest cities in the U.S., leaving for work sooner or 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 around 30 hours per year.
Remote work has provided employees with many advantages in the past two years since it became the new norm. Flexible work schedules, more family time and no commute time are some of the most obvious benefits of working remotely. However, as companies and employees are pushing for a partial return to the office as part of a hybrid work model, the issue of commute time is once again a hot topic of discussion.
Close to 28 million people were working remotely in 2021, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau, up from less than 9 million in 2019. This has certainly impacted how much time people spend travelling to work. We wanted to see how this major shift in workplace attendance has affected commute patterns and which morning timeslots you should avoid. With most employees leaving for work between 6:00 and 10:00 a.m., morning rush hour covers a rather large time interval. So, what is the best time to leave for work?
To figure it out, we looked at 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 analysis.
Average Commute Time at its Lowest in Ten Years
Remote work has caused major changes to commute times. In 2019, 94% of the U.S. workforce was commuting and 8.9 million people worked remotely which reflected in an average time of travel to work of almost 28 minutes.
In 2021, with 27.6 million people working remotely and approximately 18.6 million fewer commuters, the total travel time has dropped to 26 minutes. This 2-minute decrease in travel time amounts to about 8.5 hours in commute time saved per year. Despite the fact that there are three times more remote workers now than in 2019, the 2-minute difference in commute time is not too significant. However, workers across the nation can reconsider the time they leave for work in order to make commuting less of a hassle and more efficient.
Two-Thirds of Americans Leave for Work Within a 4-Hour Window
In 2021, over 126 million workers aged 16 and over were commuting to work each morning. Our analysis of the U.S. Census Bureau data shows that, nationally, 67% of them leave for work between 6 a.m. and 10 a.m. The busiest timeslot for morning commute is between 7:00 and 7:29 a.m., when over 18 million leave for work, or about 14% of total commuters.
With this being the busiest time slot, there are high chances of commuters experiencing a longer travel time than the national average of 25.6 minutes.
The next busiest time slots are 7:30-7:59 a.m. and 8:00-8:29 a.m., with 12% (over 14 million) and 11% (over 14 million), respectively, of commuters leaving for work during that time.
Across the top 50 largest US cities, 25 cities follow the same commuter distribution pattern, where most people leave to work between 7:00-7:29 a.m.
The 7:00-7:29 a.m. and 8:00-8:29 a.m. Timeslots Are Busiest in California and Texas
When looking at the largest cities in California, four experience peak time between 8:00 and 8:29 a.m. including Los Angeles, San Jose, San Francisco and Oakland. In Fresno and Bakersfield, the busiest timeslot is between 7:00 and 7:29 a.m. San Diego and Long Beach have two timeslots that are equally busy, 7:00-7:29 a.m. and 8:00-8:29 a.m. Only in Sacramento, most commuters travel to work between 7:30 and 7:59 a.m.
In Texas, most commuters rush to work between 7:00 and 7:29 a.m. in Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth, El Paso and Arlington. Dallas has two equally busy timeslots, 7:00-7:29 a.m. and 8:00-8:29 a.m., while most Austin commuters travel to work between 8:00 and 8:29 a.m.
Worst Times to Leave for Work in New York and Its Boroughs
The 8:00-8:29 a.m. interval is busiest in New York City, when 16% of all commuters leave for work. This can be seen when looking at the individual boroughs, as Brooklyn and Manhattan recorded the most commuters travelling between 8:00 and 8:29 a.m. On the other hand, in Queens, Bronx and Staten Island, most commuters choose to leave for work between 7:00 and 7:29 a.m.
Save up to 31 Hours a Year by Delaying or Advancing the Departure Time by Half an Hour
Everyone knows the "early bird gets the worm" proverb. However, when it comes to commuting, the early bird might have to spend more time getting to work than those leaving for work only half an hour later.
Our analysis shows that delaying or advancing the time of departure to work by just half an hour can save significant time across the largest cities in the U.S.
In Austin, TX, Commuting Between 8:30-8:59 a.m. can Save You Over 31 Hours a Year
In the top five cities that allow for the most time saved by adjusting the departure time, most commuters travel between 8:00 and 8:29 a.m. The opportunity of saving the most amount of time commuting is for workers in Austin, TX, which has the fastest growing job market in the nation. Leaving in the half-hour interval starting at 8:30 a.m., when 31,700 workers leave for work (about 9% of all workers), as opposed to the busiest timeslot between 8:00 and 8:29 a.m., when the majority of workers in Austin are on the road (over 48,500, or 14%), commuters there can save over 31 hours per year.
Annual Commuting Time in New York, NY Shortened by Over 29 Hours When Avoiding the Busiest Timeslot
In New York, NY, morning rush hour can get very hectic and, though the city is notoriously busy all day long, our analysis shows that most commuters – over 460,000 workers each day, or 16% – leave for work between 8:00 and 8:29 a.m. However, in the following interval, 8:30-8:59 a.m., the number of commuters leaving for work drops to less than 200,000, or about 7% of all workers. By choosing to leave in the later half-hour interval, they can save 29.6 hours per year.
In Washington, D.C. you can Save Over 27 Hours by Delaying Your Departure Time
Commuters in the American capital can save over 27 hours per year by delaying their travel time by half an hour and leaving for work between 8:30 and 8:59 a.m. Most workers in Washington, D.C., over 33,000 or 18% of all workers, travel to work between 8:00 and 8:29 a.m. Delaying this time interval by half an hour, when only around 20,000 commuters are traveling to work, can prove to be essential, especially for those working in the government, defense and non-profit sectors.
Commuters in Dallas, TX can Save Over 22 Hours by Adjusting Departure Time
Given the urban sprawl in Dallas, TX, a long commute time is expected. In fact, most workers, about 70,000, travel to work between 8:00 and 8:29 a.m. While having a car is not necessarily a must in what is considered one of the best cities to live in Texas, choosing to leave for work between 8:30 and 8:59 a.m., when there are less than half commuters on the road, can save workers in Dallas over 22 hours per year.
Save Over 17 Hours a Year by Leaving 30 Minutes Later in San Francisco
The busiest timeslot in San Francisco, CA, like in the other four cities in our top, is 8:00-8:29 a.m., with over 44,000 commuters on the road, or about 18% of all workers in the city. Although public transportation is highly reliable in the city, commuting to work in the morning is still a hassle. As such, leaving for work during the next half-hour interval, when only about 19,000 commuters (or about 8% of all workers) are on their way to work, can lead to a shorter time spent commuting by over 17 hours per year.
Brooklyn and Bronx Commuters Save the Most by Adjusting Their Departure Time
With an average travel time to work of 31.5 minutes, New Yorkers leaving for work between 8:30 and 8:59 a.m. have a shorter commute time than those leaving during the previous interval (38.6 minutes). This results in a difference of 7 minutes daily, or close to 30 hours of time saved per year.
When looking at the individual boroughs in New York City, choosing the best interval to leave for work varies, as rush “half-hours” are different for each of the 5 boroughs.
For Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, the busiest time interval is 7:00-7:29 a.m. Leaving for work in the later 30-minute interval results in a shorter average travel time by 8.4, 0.4 and 5.4 minutes, respectively. This translates into 35, 1.7 and 22.5 less hours spent commuting in a year.
Brooklyn and Manhattan are busiest between 8:00 and 8:29 a.m. Commuters choosing to leave for work half an hour later, between 8:30 and 8:59 a.m., could save 8.1 minutes each day, or 34 hours per year if leaving from Brooklyn and 4.4 minutes daily or 18 hours per year if leaving from Manhattan.
Rush hour is generally a great way to get an idea of when to avoid a certain time interval for leaving for work. However, the interval is not always specific enough and leaving a half hour earlier or later can make a big difference in how much time commuters spend on the road. Remote work has positively impacted the average commute time across the nation, but hybrid work may slightly push it up, unless employees consider alternative times to leave for the office. Fortunately, flexible work arrangements should provide the freedom of choosing when and on what days employees want to work from the office, which will allow for efficient commuting and a successful adoption of a hybrid work model.
- For this analysis, we looked at 2021 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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