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Where Commuting Is Out of Control

Lack of affordable housing and sub-par mass transit are boosting the ranks of “super commuters” in some regions outside of pricey metros.
This is fine.
This is fine. Philippe Wojazer/Reuters

In 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau found that it took the average commuter more than 26 minutes to get to work. That figure might sound less than much—26 minutes is about enough time to finish a podcast, after all, and some historians argue that a roughly half-hour commute has been optimal since caveman days. But it’s up 20 percent from 1980, suggesting that lots of people are now enduring considerably longer trips to work. And some cities are seeing striking growth among people who travel more than 90 minutes each way to work—the so-called super commuter.

Super commuters make up a small minority of all commuters, but their share of the population has been growing since 2005: Today, 2.8 percent, or 4 million people nationwide, are classified this way. And according to a new analysis of census data released Wednesday from ApartmentList, their growth has been especially pronounced in higher-priced cities with booming economies and big housing shortages, where workers have been forced to move further from economic centers. In the San Francisco metro alone, the share of super commuters more than doubled from 2005 to 2016; in Seattle, they rose by 65.6 percent.