A note on changes in transportation patterns related to COVID-19: The commute data presented on Vital Signs represent typical commuting activity through 2018, the most recent year for which data are available. While transportation patterns today have been impacted by COVID-19 and the statewide Shelter in Place order, data on 2020 commute trends will not be made available by the U.S. Census Bureau until Fall 2021.

Commute Time

How long is it taking us to travel to work?

Commute Time

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

Except for individuals who work at home, over 3.7 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 door-to-door travel 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 31 minutes today. While this is in the same ballpark as many other U.S. metropolitan areas, the Bay Area actually has slightly shorter commute times than many of its peers – a fact that may surprise traffic-weary residents.

Regional Performance
Commute times continued to tick upwards in 2016, hitting a record high of over 32 minutes.

Across all modes, the average Bay Area commute takes longer than ever before and now lasts over 31 minutes door-to-door. Increasing congestion and longer-distance 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 28 minutes getting to work, while those choosing public transit log an average commute time nearly twice as long at 51 minutes.

The longer transit commute times are not surprising considering nearly two-thirds of transit commuters work in San Francisco. Given congestion in San Francisco and its related impacts on Muni, plus 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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Historical Trend for Commute Time - Bay Area

Regional Distribution
While majority of Bay Area residents have reasonable commute times, 15 percent have extreme commutes – lasting more than one hour each way.

While the average Bay Area commute takes 32 minutes, commuting time varies widely based on place of residence, place of employment and mode of travel. Across all counties, commute time distribution is skewed towards shorter commutes. A majority of Bay Area workers have commutes under 30 minutes, with the plurality of workers having commutes between 15 to 29 minutes. When it comes to extreme commutes, Contra Costa, Solano and Alameda counties stand out for having the largest shares of commutes requiring more than one hour each way. Contra Costa County residents lead the pack with nearly one in four commuters traveling over one hour and eight percent traveling more than 90 minutes.

Commute Time Distribution

Local Focus
Commuters living in Contra Costa County spend significantly more time getting to work than residents of other counties.

Although workers living in Brentwood, Antioch, Rio Vista, Pittsburg and Hercules continued to spend the most time driving alone to work in 2016, commute times for solo drivers in Contra Costa County stabilized for the first time since 2009. While the 2016 data point is an encouraging note for Contra Costa drivers, the county's transit commuters saw average commute times spike to 65 minutes. Two out of three transit commuters in the county spent over one hour commuting to work each day. Cities in eastern Contra Costa continue to be affected by a regional jobs-housing imbalance where they act as bedroom communities for distant job centers.

With commute times averaging less than 25 minutes, residents of Napa and Sonoma counties have the fastest commutes in the Bay Area; cities and towns such as Calistoga, Napa, Healdsburg and Santa Rosa have especially speedy commutes. These cities are joined by a number of jobs-rich communities in Silicon Valley such as Mountain View and Santa Clara, where residents spend under 23 minutes getting to work each morning. Notably, while Silicon Valley residents have relatively quick commutes, workers at Silicon Valley companies have relatively longer commutes as many must drive long distances on increasingly congested corridors to reach job centers.

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2016 Commute Time for Cities and Neighborhoods

Select a location on the map for more information.

National Context
The Bay Area has fallen in rank for quickest commutes, but the region’s residents still have average commute times compared to other major metro areas.

The nation’s major metros all have similar commute times, ranging from 28 to 37 minutes. In 2010, the Bay Area ranked 2nd for fastest commutes, but since then the region has seen the largest increase in commute time among major metros. Still, commute times in all peer metros have worsened and the Bay Area now falls in the middle of the pack. As of 2016, the region had the fourth-quickest travel times for commuters taking public transit, with times similar to Chicago. For auto commutes, the Bay Area also ranked fourth-quickest, with times similar to Miami and Philadelphia. This relatively good performance may be unexpected considering those metros have less traffic congestion compared to the Bay Area. This reflects the short distance between home and work for many Bay Area commuters who drive, particularly residents of the Peninsula and around Santa Rosa.

Dallas and Miami have the quickest commute times, while commuters in New York and Washington spend the most time getting to work. In New York, the relatively long commute time is due to the large share of transit users who travel on average over 53 minutes to work each day. In Washington, on the other hand, transit commutes are relatively quick while drivers have longer commutes.

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

U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey

Table B08013 (2006-2015; by place of residence)

Table C08136 (2006-2015; by place of residence)

Table B08301 (2006-2015; by place of residence)

Table B08536 (2015 only; by place of employment)

Table B08601 (2015 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 times 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.