Pandemic Spawns New Era of Super Commuters

Commuters in Dallas

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Americans who commute 90 minutes or more each way are considered to have “super commutes,” and as more homeowners look for greater housing affordability farther away from cities and jobs, their commutes could grow longer. Remote work since the pandemic likely has impacted this growing trend, a new study from Apartment List finds.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, the fastest rent growth in large metros has occurred in more distant suburbs and exurbs. Hybrid work setups could create a new group of part-time super commuters.

But even before the COVID-19 pandemic, from 2010 to 2019, the number of super commuters surged by 45%, according to Apartment List’s analysis.

Motor vehicle traffic has since rebounded to pre-pandemic levels. “An embrace of remote work will precipitate significant changes in how and where we work, but there is little reason to think that this shift will meaningfully alleviate the problem of super commuting, and in some ways, it could even exacerbate it,” the study found.

Researchers say super commutes are often the product of a lack of affordable housing in urban cores of major cities near employment centers. It also may be indicative of insufficient public transit options and heavy traffic congestion.

Super commutes vary by location. For example, Stockton, Calif., which is known as one of the most affordable areas in the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay Area, has the highest super commuting rates among its residents in the country. More than one in 10 workers spend more than 90 minutes commuting each way to and from work, according to the analysis. Three other metro areas near the San Francisco Bay Area made the top 10 for super commuting: Modesto, Santa Rosa, and San Jose.

A list of the top 10 metros with the highest rates of super commuting

Overall, New York City, Los Angeles, and San Francisco contain 1.4 million super commuters. The number of super commuters in these regions has increased twice as fast as the overall workforce over the past decade, according to Apartment List’s analysis.

Super commuters don’t always travel far. Nearly half of the super commuters in the top 10 list live within a 30-mile radius of the center of the region’s core city. Sixteen percent of super commuters live within a 10-mile radius. Short-distance super commuters tend to be the most prevalent in the New York City area.

Even as more jobs go remote, super commutes likely will remain a problem, researchers say. The majority of jobs still require some on-site duties. Also, some people may be leery of public transit in the pandemic, which could worsen traffic congestion. Some workers moved further out from the city center as they looked for a larger home and greater affordability during the pandemic.

“Remote work is likely to have nuanced implications for commuting patterns, and it’s still unclear exactly what the new normal will look like when COVID is no longer a concern,” the report said. “The current evidence suggests that remote work alone is unlikely to meaningfully alleviate the problem of super commuting, and there are plausible scenarios in which remote work could actually exacerbate the problem.”