Commute Time

How long is it taking us to travel to work?

Commute Time

Definition: 
Commute time refers to the number of minutes a commuter spends traveling to work on a typical day.

Except for individuals who work at home, over three million Bay Area workers must find a way to travel to their jobs each workday. Their choice of transportation mode, departure time, trip origin and destination all play key roles in determining the door-to-door time.

The collective result of these daily decisions is reflected in the average commute time for the region – a figure which has crept up from 24 minutes in 1980 to around 30 minutes today. While this is in the same ballpark range as many other U.S. metropolitan areas, the Bay Area actually has slightly shorter commute times than its peers – a fact that might surprise many residents stuck in traffic.

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Regional Performance
Commute times continued to tick upwards in 2014, finally breaking the symbolic 30-minute mark.

Across all modes, the average Bay Area commute takes longer than ever before, with the average commute now lasting 30 minutes door-to-door. Increasing congestion and longer commutes to job centers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley have contributed to this trend. Importantly, modal choice affects commute duration. Commuters choosing to drive alone spend only 27 minutes getting to work, while those choosing public transit log an average commute time of 49 minutes.

The longer transit commute times are not surprising, given that nearly two-thirds of transit commuters work in San Francisco. Given the impacts on Muni related to congestion within San Francisco, and the long-distance commutes on BART, Caltrain and express buses from other counties, it is difficult for these commuters to get to work in 30 minutes or less. This results in above-average travel times for public transit users.

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Local Focus
Residents of Wine Country and Silicon Valley have the region’s quickest commutes.

Napa and Sonoma County residents benefit from the fastest commute times in the Bay Area, averaging less than 25 minutes each day – with cities and towns such as Yountville, Healdsburg and Napa having some of the fastest commutes in the region. Notably, these cities are joined by a number of job-rich communities in Silicon Valley such as Menlo Park and Mountain View, where commuters spend just over 20 minutes getting to work each morning. At the other end of the spectrum, workers living in Antioch, Brentwood and Oakley spend the most time commuting to work. Average commutes from these three cities in eastern Contra Costa County exceed 40 minutes.

2014 Commute Time for Cities and Neighborhoods

Select a location on the map for more information.

National Context
While commute times have worsened in recent years, Bay Area drivers and transit riders actually have some of the quickest commutes of any major metro area.

From Los Angeles to New York, Chicago to Dallas, and Miami to the Bay Area, the nation’s major metro areas are separated by many miles and are shaped by very different economic and social forces. But one thing they all have more or less in common is their commute times – ranging from 28 to 36 minutes. Within that narrow range, Dallas and Miami have the shortest commute times, while commuters in New York and Washington, D.C., spend the most time getting to work. The Bay Area’s performance in the middle of the pack is primarily due to its relatively high modal share for public transit, which offsets the relatively fast travel times for drivers.

The Bay Area has the third-shortest travel times for commuters driving alone and the third-shortest travel times for commuters taking public transit, compared to other metro areas. This trend is particularly interesting as the region compares favorably to both Sunbelt metros and older transit-oriented metros. The region’s auto travel times are similar to Dallas and Miami, while our transit travel times are similar to Philadelphia and Washington.

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Sources: 

U.S. Census Bureau: Decennial Census (1980-2000) via MTC/ABAG Bay Area Census

U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey

Table B08013 (2006-2014; by place of residence)

Table C08136 (2006-2014; by place of residence)

Table B08301 (2006-2014; by place of residence)

Table B08536 (2014 only; by place of employment)

Table B08601 (2014 only; by place of employment)

Image: Flickr (Creative Commons license), Photographer: Great Beyond, 5362886268_81e7f0976d_o.jpg

Methodology Notes: 

For the decennial Census datasets, breakdown of commute times was unavailable by mode; only overall data could be provided on a historical basis. For the American Community Survey datasets, 1-year rolling average data was used for all metros, region, and county geographic levels, while 5-year rolling average data was used for cities and tracts. This is due to the fact that more localized data is not included in the 1-year dataset across all Bay Area cities. Similarly, modal data is not available for every Bay Area city or census tract, even when the 5-year data is used for those localized geographies. Regional commute times were calculated by summing aggregate county travel times and dividing by the relevant population; similarly, modal commute time were calculated using aggregate times and dividing by the number of communities choosing that mode for the given geography. Census tract data is not available for tracts with insufficient numbers of residents. The metropolitan area comparison was performed for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area in addition to the primary MSAs for the nine other major metropolitan areas.