So-called “super commuters” who travel 90 minutes or more each way to work are on the rise, as a result of homeowners moving further away from cities in seek of greater housing affordability.
That’s according to a new analysis from Apartment List, which said the trend is also likely a result of the impact of remote work, and the new “hybrid work” culture that has arisen post-pandemic.
Apartment List said that since COVID-19 began, the fastest rent growth in large metros was seen in far flung suburbs and exurbs, as opposed to city centers where rents traditional grow fastest.
The emerging trend of hybrid work, where people work from home most days and visit the office once or twice a week, is creating a new group of super commuters who are okay with longer commutes so long as it isn’t every day.
However, Apartment List’s analysis shows the number of super commuters was on the rise from 2010 to 2019. The trend accelerated once COVID arrived though.
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.
Experts say super commutes are often a result of a lack of affordable housing in urban cores, where most people are employed. However, they can also indicate inadequate public transportation systems and heavy traffic.
The study found some interesting variations on super commutes by location. In Stockton, California, which is one of the most affordable places to live on the outskirts of the San Francisco Bay area, residents are more likely to super commute than anyone else in the country. More than one in 10 Stockton residents commute at least 90 minutes each way to and from work.
Three other metros close to San Francisco Bay also make the top 10 list of super commuters including Modesto, Santa Rosa and San Jose.
The analysis found that San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York City have a combined 1.4 million super commuters, and that growth of super commuting has happened twice as fast as overall workforce growth in those areas, in the last decade.
Not all super commuters travel very far though. Almost half live within a 30-mile radius of the center of their region’s core city, and 16% live within a 10-mile radius. It’s likely that the traffic is just so bad they have no other choice but to spend hours sitting in their cars traveling each day.
Super commuting is likely to remain a problem even as more jobs can be performed remotely, Apartment List said. It pointed out that the vast majority of work still requires people to be there in person, and that fears over using crowded public transportation systems have prompted more people to drive, worsening traffic congestion. And lots of people have moved away from city centers during the pandemic in seek of more living space.
“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.”
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