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Cost of Commuting in the US – a comparison

© Jens Bernhardt

Lengthy, stressful commutes are a ubiquitous part of life for American workers living in major metro regions. But the true costs of all that time wasted in traffic or cramped public transit are staggering. A recent analysis from the Chamber of Commerce pulls the curtain back on the massive financial burdens commuting places on both workers and the economy overall.

The Rising Cost of Commuting

The report aggregates the various direct and indirect costs borne by commuters in cities across the United States. Factoring together things like lost wages, gas and maintenance bills, parking fees, and transit fares, it finds that commuters face average annual costs of nearly $5,750. That’s almost 10% of the median nationwide salary eaten up by the daily grind of getting to work and back.

Regional Cost Variations

And in booming urban hubs on the West Coast and East Coast, the total price tag is far higher:

  • In heavily congested San Francisco, commuting costs soar to an average of $12,650 per year – the highest in the nation.
  • New York City workers have the lengthiest commute times at over 80 minutes roundtrip. This drains nearly $11,000 in productivity and expenses annually.
  • Los Angeles, Washington D.C, and Boston round out the top 5 most costly commutes, all averaging over $9,000 per year.

Commuting Expenses Add Up

Over the past few decades, as metro regions have continued expanding geographically through urban sprawl, commute times and transportation costs have steadily risen. Yet infrastructure upgrades and public transit investments have largely failed to keep pace with growth. This mismatch helps explain the massive costs now faced by commuters today.

Digging deeper, expenses like parking fees, bridge tolls, and rideshare services add hundreds or thousands per year on top of direct fuel and vehicle costs. For many commuters, transportation now likely represents their second biggest household expense after housing itself. That’s a tremendous burden.

Commuting Impacts on Growth

And beyond just straining household budgets, these lengthy commutes take a wider economic toll – slowing business productivity and output across regions. As organizations like the Chamber of Commerce bring overdue attention to the issue, policy solutions like congestion pricing and investments to expand public transit access need to become priorities for leaders looking to fuel growth.

San Francisco | © Wikimedia