For employees, a return-to-office mandate means facing the reality of the dreaded daily commute.
Whether it’s companies like Amazon, Facebook, or even Zoom, businesses are tightening their return-to-office policies across the country. As a result, employees used to working from home are now scrambling to carve out more time in their day to commute to work.
But what is the actual cost of a commute for those who find themselves trapped in traffic without getting paid for it?
In order to find out, we analyzed the average daily and yearly cost of commuting in 170 cities across the country. To determine the amount of lost wages while commuters sit in traffic, our analysis compared the average commute time in each city with the median income for full-time, year-round workers.
- San Francisco has the costliest average annual commute. Commuters in The Golden City can expect to lose an average of $12,650.66 in wages due to sitting in traffic each year.
- Nationwide, commuters experience an average annual wage loss of $5,748.05, which is equivalent to $22.11 per day.
- New York City has the longest commute, with an average round trip time of 1 hour and 20 minutes, costing workers roughly $41.66 per day, or $10,831.74 annually.
Which cities have the most expensive commutes?
When it comes to the most expensive commutes, cities on the East and West Coasts dominate the top 10 list.
On the West Coast, two Bay Area cities, San Francisco and Fremont, claim the spots for the nation’s most costly commutes. In San Francisco, commuters face an average wage loss of $12,650, while Fremont commuters lose an average of $12,048.
Elsewhere, Washington, D.C. ranks third for the most expensive commute, with an average annual loss of $11,067 for its commuters. Following closely, Jersey City ranks 4th ($10,903), and nearby New York City completes the top 5 ($10,831).
Top five cities with the costliest commutes
#1. San Francisco, California
- Average commute: 58.4 minutes
- Daily commute cost: $48.66
- Yearly commute cost: $12,650.66
#2. Fremont, California
- Average commute: 55.2 minutes
- Daily commute cost: $46.34
- Yearly commute cost: $12,048.32
#3. Washington, D.C.
- Average commute: 56.6 minutes
- Daily commute cost: $42.57
- Yearly commute cost: $11,067.07
#4. Jersey City, New Jersey
- Average commute: 1 hour and 8 minutes
- Daily commute cost: $41.94
- Yearly commute cost: $10,903.23
#5. New York, New York
- Average commute: 1 hour and 20 minutes
- Daily commute cost: $41.66
- Yearly commute cost: $10,831.74
Overall, commuters in nine out of the top 10 cities lose an average of $10,000 worth of wages or more per year on commuting. That’s nearly twice as much as the nationwide cost for commuters, which is $5,748 per year, or $22.11 per day. According to our analysis, 59 cities are above the nationwide average cost to commute.
The cheapest commuting cities can be found in Jackson, Mississippi ($2,535); Lubbock, Texas ($2,832); Springfield, Missouri ($2,870); Fayetteville, North Carolina ($3,014) and Brownsville, Texas ($3,140).
Most expensive cities for female commuters
Females already experience a pay disparity in the workplace, but they’re also losing out on wages while commuting to work.
Nationwide, female commuters lose an average of $6,324.14 per year while sitting in traffic. In terms of the cities with the highest commuting costs for females, San Francisco once again tops the list for the most expensive cities, with an annual cost for female workers totaling $15,381. New York ranks 2nd ($13,517), followed by Washington, D.C. ($13,373), Fremont, California ($12,391) and Jersey City, New Jersey ($12,284.93).
As the debate over remote work versus return-to-office continues, it’s important for small business owners to recognize that commuting goes beyond financial implications—it can also affect employee well-being and productivity.
Creating a work environment that prioritizes flexibility can have positive benefits for both your business as well as your employees.
In order to determine the costliest cities for commuters, we analyzed the median earnings for full-time, year-round workers within the 170 most populous Census-designated cities across the country. We also analyzed the average round-trip commute time in each of those cities.
The Census Bureau’s criteria for full-time, year-round workers includes people 16 years old and over who usually worked 35 hours or more per week for 50 to 52 weeks within the past 12 months.
To determine the average commute cost per day, we first multiplied the mean wage per minute by the average round-trip commute duration. We then multiplied that value by the total working days per year to determine the annual commute cost. The same metrics were used for full-time, year-round female workers in each city to determine the cost to commute for females.
Sources: U.S. Census Bureau American Community Survey
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