Cities with the best and worst commutes

From the back of a car, a driver and passenger can be seen, with the road and city beyond them.

Americans’ daily commutes have been increasing for nearly three decades. Since 1990, the average American has added a full eight minutes to their daily round-trip commute. That may not sound like much, but for the employee working 50 weeks out of the year, that is almost an extra day and a half spent getting to and from work.

Since 1990, 2017 marked the longest average commute time for U.S. workers.

Small adjustments in commute time notwithstanding, more Americans are also turning into so-called “super commuters.” As of 2017, 8.9 percent of workers traveled an hour or more each way on their commute, up from 8 percent in 2009. This coincides with a decrease in the number of Americans with very short commutes (less than 20 minutes round trip), which slid from 14.3 percent of workers in 2009 to 12.7 percent in 2017, according to the same Census data.

A study conducted by the University of the West of England, Bristol found that longer commutes can have serious ramifications on a person’s well-being. According to their findings, each extra minute of commute time reduces job and leisure time satisfaction, in addition to negatively impacting mental health. That aligns with a second study conducted by staffing firm Robert Half, which found that nearly one in four American workers have quit a job due to their commute.

For the 28.2 percent of American households with children, longer commutes can be that much more difficult since they translate into less time spent with family during the week. In addition, per the aforementioned UWE Bristol study, longer commutes may also negatively impact the quality of time spent with family even when the commuter is present. For parents going the extra mile every day to and from work, it may be taking more of a toll than they realize, even if it does translate into a larger paycheck.

To see which cities in the U.S. have the longest and shortest commutes, researchers at Haven Life, an online life insurance agency, evaluated data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey. For each city, Haven Life calculated the average round-trip commute time and included other statistics about its residents’ journey to work. Here’s what they found:

Key findings

  • In 2017, the federal government spent $45.8 billion and $17 billion on highways and mass transit, respectively, down from $55.3 billion and up from $15.2 billion in 2005, according to the Congressional Budget Office. Despite this, the commuter profile for Americans has changed very little since then, with the overwhelming majority of workers continuing to rely on cars to get to and from work.
  • True to the Golden State’s reputation for long commutes and traffic jams, four of the 10 cities with the longest commutes are located in California. The New York metropolitan area is also notable, with New York City, Newark, Jersey City, and Yonkers all making the list.
  • Cities separated from major metropolitan areas dominate the list of locales with the shortest commutes. These cities generally offer residents places to live, work, and play without having to visit a neighboring hub.

The 10 cities with the longest commutes

10. Naperville, Illinois

  • Average round-trip commute: 67.4 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 6.9:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 18.7%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 78.7%, Public transit: 10.1%, Walk: 1.4%, Bicycle: 0.2%

Naperville is a suburb of Chicago, located approximately 35 miles west of the Windy City. According to investment banking group UBS, Chicago ranks as one of the most expensive cities in the world, making it unreasonable for many families to move any closer to the metropolitan area.

9. Yonkers, New York

  • Average round-trip commute: 68.6 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 6.7:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 20.4%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 63.3%, Public transit: 27.5%, Walk: 4.7%, Bicycle: 0.2%

Yonkers residents frequently commute into New York via one of multiple commuter rails running between the cities. Depending on where someone works, rail lines are often more convenient and economical than driving in, which helps explain the high percentage of commuters using public transit.

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8. Moreno Valley, California

  • Average round-trip commute: 68.6 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 6.5:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 17.1%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 92.7%, Public transit: 1.5%, Walk: 0.7%, Bicycle: 0.3%

Moreno Valley sits in the Inland Empire on the far eastern edge of the Greater Los Angeles urban area, just south of San Bernardino. Commuters driving towards the city center must contest with Los Angeles’ notorious gridlock traffic, a major drawback for many considering moving to the area.

7. Chicago, Illinois

  • Average round-trip commute: 69.2 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 6.7:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 16.2%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 57.1%, Public transit: 28.2%, Walk: 6.7%, Bicycle: 1.7%

Residents of Naperville have long commutes, but moving to Chicago is unlikely to decrease the amount of time they spend behind the wheel—unless, of course, they switch to the city’s bus and rail system, which services more than 28 percent of all working residents.

6. Santa Clarita, California

  • Average round-trip commute: 69.8 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 6.6:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 19.7%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 87.9%, Public transit: 3%, Walk: 1.2%, Bicycle: 0.5%

Santa Clarita is a city located 35 miles North of Los Angeles, which remains quintessentially suburban in nature despite its population of 210,000. Commuters, on average, spend more than an hour commuting per day. And nearly one in five residents spend twice that amount of time traveling to and from their jobs.

5. Newark, New Jersey

  • Average round-trip commute: 71 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 6.3:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 20.6%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 62.4%, Public transit: 26.3%, Walk: 8.1%, Bicycle: 0.2%

Newark is the Garden State’s most populous city, with 285,000 residents in 2017. While many commute to New York City during the day, others have jobs in town, accounting for the 8.1 percent of commuters that can walk to work.

4. Corona, California

  • Average round-trip commute: 73.4 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 6.2:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 23.6%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 90.7%, Public transit: 1.6%, Walk: 1.2%, Bicycle: 0.1%

Corona is a city located on the west side of Riverside County. Like Moreno Valley, Corona’s proximity to Los Angeles makes for lengthy commutes. Approximately one in four Corona residents spend two hours or more getting to and from work each day.

3. Jersey City, New Jersey

  • Average round-trip commute: 73.6 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 6.4:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 18.7%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 38.5%, Public transit: 48.5%, Walk: 8%, Bicycle: 0.4%

While Newark and Jersey City are adjacent to each other and have similar average commute times, their commuter profiles are quite different. Whereas in Newark, roughly 25 percent of the working population makes use of public transit options, in Jersey City that number is closer to 50 percent.

2. New York, New York

  • Average round-trip commute: 81.6 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 5.8:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 26.1%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 26.6%, Public transit: 56.5%, Walk: 10%, Bicycle :1.2%

New Yorkers have one of the worst commutes in the nation by a wide margin, with a full eight-minute increase over Jersey City. One in 10 residents walks to work every day, though it’s questionable whether this is because of proximity or because it’s faster than using any other form of transit.

1. Palmdale, California

  • Average round-trip commute: 85.4 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 5.3:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 35.0%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 91.4%, Public transit: 2%, Walk: 0.8%, Bicycle :0.2%

This small city in North Los Angeles County has the worst round-trip commute of any city in the nation. The average Palmdale citizen spends almost an hour and a half each day commuting, many of whom make the long trek to Los Angeles and back for work. No major roadways connect Palmdale straight to Los Angeles, meaning residents must first circumvent the Angeles National Forest before navigating LA traffic.

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The 10 cities with the shortest commutes

10. Boise, Idaho

  • Average round-trip commute: 36.8 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 12.3:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 2.3%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 88%, Public transit: 0.7%, Walk: 2%, Bicycle: 2.7%

In spite of allegedly spotty bus service, Boise residents enjoy one of the shortest round-trip commutes in the nation. According to Boise State Public Radio, there’s more to the city than just the short commute, such as its temperate climate, affordable lifestyle and ready access to the outdoors.

9. Tallahassee, Florida

  • Average round-trip commute: 36.8 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 11.4:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 2.6%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 88.3%, Public transit: 2.3%, Walk: 3.3%, Bicycle: 0.9%

As with many other cities on this list, Tallahassee’s residents rely heavily on their cars for their daily commute, with nearly nine in 10 residents driving every day. Families partial to the warm weather and nature will find lots to love in Florida’s panhandle, where the city is just an hour from the coast and adjacent to national forests and wildlife preserves.

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8. Syracuse, New York

  • Average round-trip commute: 36.8 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 11.3:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 4.2%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 73.7%, Public transit: 9.6%, Walk: 11.3%, Bicycle: 1%

Of the 10 cities with the shortest commutes, Syracuse has the fewest residents that drive, with less than three in four getting behind the wheel. An unusually large share of the population relies on alternative methods of transport, with one in five residents either walking or taking public transit. For residents that can brave Upstate New York’s winter months, Syracuse is an affordable metropolitan area with ready access to both suburbs and nearby Saratoga Springs for weekend getaways.

7. Lincoln, Nebraska

  • Average round-trip commute: 36.6 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 12.3:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 2.9%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 90.5%, Public transit: 1.4%, Walk: 3.1%, Bicycle: 1.4%

Even though Lincoln covers 94.3 square miles, it’s unlikely that commuters will have trouble reaching any part of the city on time given its low population density of just 2,900 people per square mile. Employees in finance, manufacturing, and tech that loathe the longer commute times and crowds of major cities will find a happy balance in Lincoln.

6. Wichita, Kansas

  • Average round-trip commute: 36.4 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 12.8:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 2.1%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 93.1%, Public transit: 0.7%, Walk: 1.4%, Bicycle: 0.3%

Located on the Arkansas River, Wichita was first established in the 1860s as a cattle trading post. Today, the city is best known as an aircraft manufacturing hub. Geographically, Wichita is fairly spread out and not densely populated, which together make for quick morning and evening commutes. Only about one in 50 Wichita residents have to commute more than two hours during the day—the fewest out of any city on this list.

5. Eugene, Oregon

  • Average round-trip commute: 36.4 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 11.5:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 4.4%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 75.2%, Public transit: 4.1%, Walk: 7.2%, Bicycle: 6.5%

Eugene’s small geographic footprint of 43.7 square miles makes biking and walking viable options for many commuters. Just under one in seven commuters cycle or walk to work every day and only one in four drives. The commute isn’t the only appealing quality for families with an active lifestyle, as Eugene is flanked by the Willamette National Forest on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other.

4. Amarillo, Texas

  • Average round-trip commute: 35.4 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 13.6:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 3.7%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 94.9%, Public transit: 0.7%, Walk: 1.1%, Bicycle: 0.2%

Located in the heart of the Texas panhandle, Amarillo has the highest percentage of car commuters of any city in the nation. The city’s large footprint and blistering summer temperatures mean that cycling and walking aren’t feasible solutions for a large portion of the population. With that said, residents willing to brave the heat will be rewarded by Palo Duro Canyon State Park and the Cadillac Ranch art installation.

3. Springfield, Missouri

  • Average round-trip commute: 35.4 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 12.4:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 2.5%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 89.7%, Public transit: 1.1%, Walk: 3.6%, Bicycle: 0.8%

Springfield’s weather is notoriously varied across the year, making alternative modes of transportation less appealing. With cold winters, hot summers, and around 17 inches of snowfall annually, it’s no surprise that the majority of commuters drive to work every day. But for families that enjoy the four seasons and short drives to work, Springfield is a fine choice.

2. Sioux Falls, South Dakota

  • Average round-trip commute: 33.8 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 13.9:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 2.6%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 92.7%, Public transit: 1%, Walk: 2%, Bicycle :0.5%

Sioux Falls has a population density of just 2,100 people per square mile, spread across 73.5 miles where South Dakota meets Iowa and Minnesota. Families valuing a small-town feel with the amenities of a metropolitan area will feel at home in the city, where employment opportunities and public schools are right next door.

1. Lubbock, Texas

  • Average round-trip commute: 32.8 minutes
  • Ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours: 13.9:1
  • Population commuting 2+ hrs round-trip per day: 2.7%
  • Commuter profile: Car: 93.3%, Public transit: 1%, Walk: 2%, Bicycle :0.5%

With the shortest commute in the nation, excellent public schools, and a strong business environment, families in Lubbock are able to make the most of the city professionally without sacrificing their kids’ education or time at home.

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Methodology

Data for commute times, commuter profiles, and working hours were acquired from the Census Bureau’s 2017 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. Supporting data for federal infrastructure spending allocations is provided by the Congressional Budget Office.

The number of weekly commuting hours for each city was derived from the daily one-way commute time provided by the American Community Survey. The ratio of weekly working hours to commuting hours for each city was calculated by dividing the weekly working hours provided in the ACS by the derived weekly commuting hours. All other statistics are reported as they originally appear in their respective sources.

Haven Life Insurance Agency LLC (Haven Life) conducted this analysis for educational/informational purposes only. Haven Life is an online life insurance agency offering term life insurance issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company. Haven Life does not provide tax, legal, investment, or housing/real estate advice, and the information in the study should not be relied on as such. You should consult your own tax, legal, investment, and other advisors, as appropriate, before engaging in any transaction.

Real Rate is based on your application and third party data obtained during underwriting.

Haven Term is a Term Life Insurance Policy (DTC 042017 [OK1] and ICC17DTC in certain states, including NC) issued by Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual), Springfield, MA 01111-0001 and offered exclusively through Haven Life Insurance Agency, LLC. Policy and rider form numbers and features may vary by state and may not be available in all states. In NY, Haven Term is DTC-NY 1017. In CA, Haven Term is DTC-CA 042017. Our Agency license number in California is OK71922 and in Arkansas, 100139527.

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