There are a lot of things we spend an excessive amount of time doing: Sleeping, working, and watching TV typically account for years worth of accumulated hours and minutes. But one up-and-coming contender is starting to take up even more space in our days: commuting.
The average American spends 100 hours every year commuting to and from work – and the length of a typical drive to work is only getting longer. To put that into perspective, you’re probably spending more time sitting in your car than going on vacation, and you’re most likely not getting paid for it.
We polled over 1,000 people about their daily commutes and analyzed INRIX as well as U.S. Census Bureau data to see how many employees are compensated for their commutes, which cities lose the most time to traffic and congestion, and how much these commutes are costing people in America's biggest cities. Want to know where your city ranks? Read on to find out.
Despite the availability of public transportation in some regions, a vast majority of people travel to and from work using a personal vehicle. A minimal number of commuters (5.2 percent) carpool with their fellow employees, and even less (4.6 percent) are compensated for their time in the car. As we’ll explore below, the amount of time employees commute could be worth some serious cash if their companies were willing to pay up.
If a sea of red brake lights appearing on your way home gives you a sinking feeling, that could be partially due to the overwhelming amount of time we spend every year sitting in traffic: a whopping 41 hours on average. Overall, traffic costs us over $1,600 or nearly $66,000 over a 40-year career.
Worse for Wear
The average American spends roughly 26 minutes getting to work each morning – just enough time to scarf down a morning coffee or get through most of a weekly podcast. But imagine living in a city where the amount of time you spend sitting in traffic is twice the average?
In Los Angeles, the average commuter spends more time sitting in traffic than anywhere else – adding up to 102 hours every year. Compared to the national average of 41 hours, people living in Southern California spend more than twice as much time trying to navigate the harsh reality of the 405 and 110. In fact, Los Angeles traffic is consistently ranked as having the world's worst congestion.
New York City (91 hours), San Francisco (79), and Atlanta (70) also had among the worst times for routine traffic jams, beating out Miami, Washington, D.C., and Boston.
As the saying goes, time is money. Using the median salary data in each city, we determined the greatest average costs of sitting in traffic every day.
New York City might not be the worst city in America for congested intersections or delayed transportation, but waiting for your train to show up in the morning or sitting in the back of a cab can still cost you. The average New Yorker loses close to $3,000 every year from commuting to work. This might not fully cover the cost of monthly rent, but it’s pretty close.
Commuters in Los Angeles lose over $2,800 a year in traffic jams, while people commuting in and out of San Francisco lose more than $2,200.
Considering the amount of time people spend in their weekly commutes, it probably wouldn’t be terrible if employees compensated workers. In 2015, a European court ruled that an employee’s commute was considered “work” and they should be paid for their time.
Fewer Americans are on board with this notion, though. Only 1 in 3 people believed they should be compensated for their commute to and from work, compared to 66 percent of employees who disagreed.
Considering how much commuting and congestion costs travelers annually, employers might not cover the full cost of their employees’ daily travels. Of those who did receive compensation for their commute, the average reimbursement was $190 each year.
A Difference of Opinion
People in the South, including Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, had the strongest positive opinion toward getting paid for their travel time. Despite being exposed to more extreme weather conditions (including sleet and snow), people living in the Northeast and Midwest, including states like Maine, New York, and Illinois, were less concerned about being compensated for their time in the car.
While a majority of people didn’t think their daily commutes warranted employer compensation, they might have a different attitude toward adjusting their work hours. If traffic is heaviest between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m., why not come in at 10 a.m. instead? According to our poll, only 30 percent of employers let their staff adjust their workdays around traffic patterns.
Making Up The Difference
For some people, being compensated for their daily drive isn’t just about getting paid for being in the car. For over 13 percent of employees, just being compensated for the cost of gas would be sufficient. Gas prices hit a three-year high in 2018 and are expected to continue to rise.
Nearly 1 in 10 wanted to be compensated for their gas and miles driven, while 7.5 percent wanted to earn money back for their time. Less than 4 percent were interested in being compensated via their hourly wage.
Making the Most of It
Daily commutes are a fact of life for millions of people. If you’re lucky enough to have an “average” drive to work, you might not spend more than 30 minutes going from door to door each morning and evening. Still, some people in America’s biggest cities are spending far more time sitting behind the wheel, and much of that is owed to traffic. And while most jobs aren’t letting their employees structure their days around the drive, even just being compensated for the (rising) cost of gas would be nice.
Whether your drive is just 15 minutes or well over an hour, make sure you’re not stressing about the cost of car insurance along the way. At Auto Insurance Center, our mission is to help you save on the cost of your premium by providing insight into how to compare policies and find fair quotes from providers in your area. In just six minutes, you could save up to $400. Visit us at AutoInsuranceCenter.com to learn more.
We collected data from INRIX, American FactFinder, Census.gov, and a supplementary survey. When using the INRIX data, we used the “Interactive Ranking and City Dashboards” data to create the “Hours Spent in Congestion” map and then used the INRIX “Global Traffic Scorecard” data to visualize the “Total Cost per Driver in the U.S.” We also used Census.gov to determine the average commute time in the U.S. These sources proved to be the most comprehensive data sources to understand how much time is wasted commuting to work throughout the U.S.
For our supplementary survey, we collected 1,002 responses from U.S. participants using Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. Forty-four percent of respondents were female, and 56 percent were male. In the U.S., there were 229 respondents from the Midwest, 202 respondents from the Northeast, 328 respondents from the South, and 243 respondents from the West.
Survey participants ranged in age from 18 to 85, with a mean of 33 and a standard deviation of 10.3 years. Participants were excluded if they were clearly not paying attention (e.g., failed attention check question or entered obviously inconsistent data). Participants who were included in this survey indicated they worked in an office, and participants were excluded if they indicated they worked from home or were not currently employed. There was no statistical testing conducted for this project.
For this project, we only included data from INRIX, American Fact Finder, U.S. Census Bureau Data, and a supplementary survey. Data from Texas A&M Transportation Institute Congestion data has been excluded because that data has yet to be updated.