The costly commute of America: You’ll never believe how much Americans lose commuting annually

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Although many COVID-19 pandemic lockdowns ended in 2020, workers across the country have been fighting return-to-office policies since. With more companies eliminating work-from-home options, those affected aren’t just losing the comforts of their home offices — commuting also comes at a cost.

According to the latest LendingTree study, American workers lose an average of $5,724.56 a year traveling to work. In addition to going over where commuting is costliest, stick around for tips on reducing these costs (including how you can utilize your credit card at the gas pump).

  • The typical American commute to work is 26.4 minutes long — and time is money. Based on median hourly earnings of $30.80, commuting costs $27.10 a day in lost time — or $5,724.56 a year.
  • Walking is the most efficient type of commute. Those who live close enough to walk to work typically have an average commute of 12 minutes — the shortest overall. That’s followed by taking a taxi or bicycling (averaging 21 minutes each). On the other hand, those who take a long-distance train or commuter rail take 72 minutes, on average, to get to work.
  • Commuting costs workers the most in New York City. For New Yorkers, it takes an average of 35.8 minutes to get to work. With hourly earnings of $38.80, that equals $13,259.60 lost annually in commuting time. San Francisco ($12,311.75), Washington, D.C. ($12,232.63), and Bridgeport, Conn. ($10,748.52), follow.
  • Commutes are cheapest in Wichita, Kan. Workers in Wichita travel 20.1 minutes to get to work. At hourly earnings of $26.20, that translates to $2,823.08 in annual lost wages. McAllen, Texas ($2,871.12), and Fayetteville, Ark. ($3,420.13), have the next cheapest commutes.

How we calculated the cost of commuting

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2022 American Community Survey with one-year estimates — the latest available — researchers first compiled average commute times in the 100 largest metros. Then, using Census Bureau data on median earnings for full-time workers, analysts estimated average hourly earnings in these metros by dividing median earnings by the estimated annual hours worked by full-time employees in that metro.

Finally, researchers multiplied the average hourly earnings by the total time spent commuting to estimate the opportunity cost of commuting. Researchers assumed 240 working days in 2022 (we started at 260 but accounted for 10 days of vacation and 10 holidays that occurred during the week).

The road to success is paved with cash. In fact, the typical American commute to work is 26.4 minutes — and that time impacts employees’ wallets. With Americans earning a median of $30.80 an hour, that means commuting to work costs $27.10 a day. That equals $5,724.56 a year.

The cost of commuting
Average commute to work (one way) 26.4 minutes
Median annual earnings $57,216
Average hours worked per week 38.7
Annual work hours 1,858
Hourly earnings $30.80
Commute hours per day 0.88
Commute cost per day $27.10
Commute hours per year 211.2
Annual commute cost $5,724.56

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2022 American Community Survey data. Note: While we rounded for display, calculations were made with unrounded figures.

While some workers can make their commutes productive (such as making hands-free calls in the car or returning emails on the train), LendingTree chief credit analyst Matt Schulz says those costs go beyond lost time.

“The cost of long commutes goes far beyond impacting productivity,” he says. “It’s about the cost of gas, parking and the daily wear and tear on your car. It’s about the price of that bus pass or train ticket. It’s about the toll that the commute can take on your physical and mental health, leading to higher health care-related bills. It’s about paying for child care so your little one has someone to take care of them between when school lets out and when you can get home from work. It’s about the financial and physical cost of getting takeout or dining out regularly because you’re too tired from your workday and commuting to muster the energy to cook. Those are just a few examples. There are so many more.”

With these costs in mind, Schulz says it’s understandable so many workers have been reluctant to let go of the remote work environment they had during the worst of the pandemic.

“Sure, we’re all sick of Zooms and we miss some of the social aspects of the workplace, but having gotten a taste of work life without a long, arduous commute, many people have decided that they’ll never fully go back to how it was, and I don’t blame them for a second,” he says.

Of course, not all commutes are created equally. For those who live within walking distance of their job, a commute on foot is typically 12 minutes one way — the shortest type of commute.

Commute time by transportation type

Means of transportation Commute time in minutes
Long-distance train or commuter rail 72
Ferryboat 57
Subway or elevated rail 49
Light rail, streetcar or trolley 47
Bus 46
Other method 28
Car, truck or van 25
Motorcycle 22
Taxicab 21
Bicycle 21
Walk 12

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2022 American Community Survey data.

Taking a taxi and bicycling tie as the next shortest commutes, at 21 minutes each, on average — though the costs beyond lost time likely vary drastically between these methods.

On the other hand, a long-distance train or commuter rail ranks as the longest commute, with consumers using this method taking an average of 72 minutes to get to work. That’s followed by taking a ferryboat (57 minutes) or a subway or elevated rail (49 minutes).

By metro, commuting costs the most in the city that never sleeps. In New York, workers take an average of 35.8 minutes to commute one way. By using the same calculation as above to find the cost of commuting across the 100 largest U.S. metros, LendingTree researchers calculated that median earnings in New York are $38.80 hourly based on their annual earnings and work hours — meaning workers here lose $13,259.60 in commuting time.

One reason why New York may rank highest? It could be the type of transportation used. While 51.4% of New Yorkers drive to work, 24.0% use public transportation. More specifically, 14.7% use the subway — one of the most time-consuming modes of transportation — while 6.3% take the bus.

Metros with the highest annual commute costs

Rank Metro Commute time in minutes Hourly earnings Annual commute cost
1 New York, NY 35.8 $38.80 $13,259.60
2 San Francisco, CA 30.2 $50.62 $12,311.75
3 Washington, DC 32.3 $43.97 $12,232.63
4 Bridgeport, CT 30.8 $42.49 $10,748.52
5 Boston, MA 30.1 $43.21 $10,438.73

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2022 American Community Survey data.

San Francisco has the next costliest commute. While workers here have an average commute time of 30.2 minutes one way, the higher hourly earnings of $50.62 means commuting puts a massive dent of $12,311.75 annually in workers’ pockets. Those high median earnings take the bulk of the blame.

Washington, D.C. ($12,232.63), and Bridgeport, Conn. ($10,748.52), follow. Like San Francisco, the median hourly earnings play the largest role in commute costs here. While workers earn a median hourly salary of $43.97 in Washington, workers in Bridgeport earn $42.49 hourly.

Commutes can make people’s budgets tighter than they might otherwise need to be, leading to a host of issues, Schulz says. He says long commutes can also affect people’s job prospects. “A new job offer with a higher salary might sound like a great thing, but if the new commute is 35 minutes each way and your current one is 10 to 15 minutes, it may not be as great a deal as you initially thought. In those cases, it’s important to take the time to do the math and estimate the costs of the longer commute before you say yes.”

On the other end of the list, commutes are cheapest in Wichita, Kan. Most notably, commutes in Wichita are the shortest among the 100 metros analyzed, at 20.1 minutes one way. With workers here earning $26.20 hourly based on their annual work hours, they’re losing an average of $2,823.08 yearly by commuting.

McAllen, Texas, has the next cheapest commute. A commute here is 22.5 minutes one-way. With hourly median earnings of $21.27, that means workers lose $2,871.12 yearly. Fayetteville, Ark., rounds out the bottom three: With a one-way commute of 21.7 minutes and hourly earnings of $27.24, workers in Fayetteville lose $3,420.13 yearly by commuting.

Schulz says these savings can have an impact beyond the financial.

“Even an extra 15 or 20 minutes a day can make a massive difference in your quality of life,” he says. “It can save you real money in gas fill-ups, wear and tear on your car and many other things that go into commuting. Shorter commutes also mean greater freedom, and it’s hard to put a price tag on that. It makes managing sick pets, soccer practice schedules and leaky plumbing easier. It gives you time to devote to your idea for a small business or a book you wanted to write. Anyone who has gone from having a long commute to a much shorter one, or even getting rid of it altogether, can tell you how much of a life-changer it is.”

Full rankings

Metros with the highest/lowest annual commute costs

Rank Metro Commute time in minutes Hourly earnings Annual commute cost
1 New York, NY 35.8 $38.80 $13,259.60
2 San Francisco, CA 30.2 $50.62 $12,311.75
3 Washington, DC 32.3 $43.97 $12,232.63
4 Bridgeport, CT 30.8 $42.49 $10,748.52
5 Boston, MA 30.1 $43.21 $10,438.73
6 Poughkeepsie, NY 32.1 $35.71 $9,810.92
7 San Jose, CA 25.8 $55.05 $9,771.77
8 Stockton, CA 33.9 $31.18 $9,554.14
9 Seattle, WA 28.5 $43.22 $9,362.28
10 Baltimore, MD 29.0 $37.41 $8,390.30
11 Chicago, IL 30.2 $34.23 $8,324.89
12 Riverside, CA 32.6 $29.06 $8,236.94
13 Atlanta, GA 30.9 $31.91 $8,125.17
14 Philadelphia, PA 28.6 $35.71 $7,788.75
15 Los Angeles, CA 29.2 $33.33 $7,578.90
16 Worcester, MA 28.2 $35.67 $7,565.10
17 Houston, TX 30.0 $29.88 $7,171.63
18 Denver, CO 26.8 $36.90 $7,066.76
19 Sacramento, CA 26.8 $35.91 $6,877.78
20 New Haven, CT 25.9 $36.62 $6,551.24
21 Raleigh, NC 26.6 $34.53 $6,515.55
22 Austin, TX 26.4 $34.88 $6,483.46
23 Providence, RI 26.4 $34.70 $6,449.85
24 San Diego, CA 25.5 $36.51 $6,331.50
25 Dallas, TX 27.7 $30.82 $6,306.27
26 Miami, FL 29.5 $26.78 $6,213.79
27 Honolulu, HI 26.7 $32.65 $6,206.58
28 Allentown, PA 27.6 $30.18 $6,129.96
29 Tampa, FL 28.5 $28.14 $6,095.79
30 Hartford, CT 24.5 $38.05 $6,089.75
31 Charleston, SC 27.5 $29.97 $6,044.92
32 Pittsburgh, PA 26.3 $32.74 $6,039.54
33 Portland, OR 24.8 $36.28 $5,950.41
34 Detroit, MI 26.0 $32.85 $5,921.13
35 Nashville, TN 27.1 $30.19 $5,911.72
36 Albany, NY 24.7 $36.28 $5,902.48
37 Orlando, FL 28.4 $27.27 $5,865.25
38 Lakeland, FL 30.3 $23.86 $5,842.51
39 Cape Coral, FL 28.9 $26.20 $5,834.81
40 Portland, ME 25.6 $33.10 $5,785.51
41 Oxnard, CA 25.3 $33.73 $5,757.82
42 Minneapolis, MN 24.0 $37.17 $5,709.10
43 Palm Bay, FL 26.2 $30.22 $5,531.05
44 Cincinnati, OH 25.2 $32.37 $5,482.22
45 Birmingham, AL 26.7 $28.83 $5,481.11
46 Charlotte, NC 26.3 $29.35 $5,413.69
47 Indianapolis, IN 25.6 $30.78 $5,379.93
48 Durham, NC 24.8 $32.70 $5,362.63
49 Richmond, VA 24.8 $32.38 $5,310.67
50 Phoenix, AZ 25.8 $29.80 $5,289.93
51 St. Louis, MO 24.8 $31.78 $5,212.07
52 Baton Rouge, LA 26.4 $28.01 $5,206.60
53 San Antonio, TX 27.0 $26.67 $5,184.21
54 Deltona, FL 27.3 $25.97 $5,161.01
55 North Port, FL 26.4 $27.74 $5,156.46
56 New Orleans, LA 26.4 $27.68 $5,145.27
57 Jacksonville, FL 25.8 $28.47 $5,054.40
58 Albuquerque, NM 25.4 $29.22 $5,026.45
59 Cleveland, OH 24.2 $31.51 $4,921.45
60 Columbus, OH 23.5 $32.82 $4,832.71
61 Virginia Beach, VA 24.9 $29.16 $4,821.69
62 Columbia, SC 25.6 $26.71 $4,667.51
63 Akron, OH 24.0 $30.19 $4,637.38
64 Springfield, MA 22.1 $34.88 $4,543.42
65 Greenville, SC 24.6 $27.68 $4,467.35
66 Tucson, AZ 24.3 $28.11 $4,426.67
67 Salt Lake City, UT 22.8 $31.81 $4,409.14
68 Colorado Springs, CO 23.3 $30.38 $4,398.30
69 Harrisburg, PA 23.1 $30.82 $4,385.23
70 Ogden, UT 22.0 $33.91 $4,376.83
71 Milwaukee, WI 22.5 $32.18 $4,344.39
72 Louisville, KY 23.8 $28.62 $4,322.56
73 Winston-Salem, NC 24.7 $26.55 $4,320.13
74 Kansas City, MO 22.8 $31.03 $4,302.16
75 Las Vegas, NV 24.6 $26.64 $4,299.10
76 Augusta, GA 24.1 $27.46 $4,252.49
77 Bakersfield, CA 24.5 $26.47 $4,237.17
78 Madison, WI 21.3 $34.99 $4,233.18
79 Oklahoma City, OK 24.1 $27.07 $4,192.43
80 Boise, ID 23.1 $29.37 $4,178.70
81 Knoxville, TN 23.9 $27.35 $4,165.75
82 Buffalo, NY 21.8 $32.60 $4,130.99
83 Memphis, TN 23.9 $27.09 $4,126.69
84 Fresno, CA 23.4 $28.21 $4,119.30
85 Provo, UT 21.1 $34.62 $4,110.34
86 Chattanooga, TN 23.6 $27.27 $4,050.35
87 Syracuse, NY 21.3 $33.21 $4,017.53
88 Des Moines, IA 21.4 $32.64 $3,985.97
89 Dayton, OH 21.7 $31.01 $3,894.57
90 Grand Rapids, MI 21.6 $30.40 $3,782.41
91 Rochester, NY 21.1 $31.60 $3,751.81
92 Little Rock, AR 23.1 $26.20 $3,728.57
93 Greensboro, NC 23.2 $25.91 $3,718.47
94 El Paso, TX 24.4 $22.17 $3,519.42
95 Omaha, NE 20.4 $31.66 $3,513.65
96 Tulsa, OK 21.9 $27.13 $3,469.76
97 Toledo, OH 21.1 $29.22 $3,469.57
98 Fayetteville, AR 21.7 $27.24 $3,420.13
99 McAllen, TX 22.5 $21.27 $2,871.12
100 Wichita, KS 20.1 $26.20 $2,823.08

Source: LendingTree analysis of U.S. Census Bureau 2022 American Community Survey data.

While a daily commute can take a toll on your wallet, you shouldn’t let it drive you into debt. To help reduce commuting costs beyond lost time, Schulz recommends the following:

  • Share a ride. “Carpooling to and from work can save you significant money if you’re fortunate enough to have the opportunity to do it,” he says. “You’ll have to make sure you’re comfortable spending all that extra time with the people you’re riding with because the mental toll of that can outweigh the financial perks of the rideshare if you aren’t. If you can make it work, however, it’s certainly worth considering. Also, don’t discount public transportation. Some cities have far better offerings in this regard than others, but it can be worth looking into anywhere depending on your circumstances.”
  • Take care of your vehicle. A long drive to work is rough on your car, but proper maintenance can help reduce the chances of it breaking down on you. If the maintenance costs outweigh the benefits of a shorter commute, consider taking out an auto loan if you have the financial wiggle room to upgrade your vehicle.
  • Leverage credit card rewards. “The right credit card, used wisely, can help extend your commute budget,” Schulz says. “Whether you’re using a gas rewards credit card to save a few cents each time you fill up or just a standard cash back card to get a little bit back on everything you buy, it can make a difference. Just make sure you pay the balance in full each month. Otherwise, the interest you pay can easily outweigh the rewards you get back.”

LendingTree researchers analyzed data on the 100 largest U.S. metros by total workers to determine the opportunity cost of commuting.

Using data from the U.S. Census Bureau 2022 American Community Survey with one-year estimates — the latest available federal data — researchers first compiled average commute times in the 100 metros. Analysts then estimated average hourly earnings in these metros using Census Bureau data on median earnings for full-time workers, dividing that number by the estimated annual hours worked by full-time employees in that metro.

Researchers then multiplied the average hourly earnings by the total time spent commuting to estimate the opportunity cost of commuting. Researchers assumed 240 working days in 2022. We started at 260 working days, via WorkingDays.us, after accounting for Saturdays and Sundays but subtracted 10 days for vacation and 10 holidays that occurred during the week).

Analysts then ranked the metros from highest to lowest based on the annual opportunity cost. That means residents of metros ranked higher have the potential to lose more money while commuting.

Source

This article originally appeared on LendingTree and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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This article originally appeared on LendingTree and was syndicated by MediaFeed.

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