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Cities That Gained the Most Time Back From Their Commutes

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Photo of commuters driving to work

Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, commuting was a daily habit for most American workers. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans spent an average of 4.5 hours per week on their commute in 2018. Although the amount of time that the average person spent commuting had been steadily increasing, the predominant shift to remote work in 2020 is reversing this trend—possibly for the long-term.

Data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that the amount of time that an average person spends commuting has been rising. In 2018, the average travel time to work was 27.1 minutes, compared to 25.3 minutes in 2010. While the difference might not seem like much, it amounts to 18 extra minutes each week or 16 hours per year.

Additionally, the total number of people commuting by car has grown over the past ten years, reaching almost 118 million in 2018. Before COVID-19, about three-quarters of workers drove to work alone—the mode of transportation that is perhaps least conducive to multitasking.

Bar graph showing commuting times trending upwards each year


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Apart from the time concerns, studies have shown that commuting can have negative effects on health and well-being. Workplace research from Gallup found that workers with longer commutes are more likely to suffer from physical ailments such as back pain, high cholesterol, and obesity, as well as higher reported levels of stress.

Commuting also comes with economic costs. The 2019 Urban Mobility Report released by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that the average American commuter spends nearly seven full working days per year in traffic delays, incurring over $1,000 in personal costs. For those who drive alone, long commutes and especially traffic delays can be detrimental to productivity.

Due in part to the inconveniences of commuting, remote work has been gaining steam for years. According to Gallup research, 39 percent of employees worked remotely at least some of the time in 2012, and that number increased to 43 percent by 2016. Now, as a result of COVID-19, working remotely has become the new norm for many workers.

Not surprisingly, the transition to remote work means that fewer workers are commuting. Prior to COVID-19, the average total time spent commuting and working was 43.4 hours per week. When calculating the average number of hours spent commuting (4.5 hours) compared to the average number of hours spent on work and commuting (43.4 hours), newly-remote workers nationwide have gained an average 10.4 percent of their work week back.

However, some locations are more likely to have gained significant time back from their commutes than others. Remote workers in coastal states like New York, California, and Maryland gained the most time back, while those in central states like Wyoming, South Dakota, and North Dakota are likely saving less time.

Heatmap of U.S. showing states with longest commute times

To find out which cities are gaining the most time back from not having to commute, researchers at CoPilot, a car shopping app, analyzed data from the U.S. Census Bureau and calculated what percentage of the average work week was spent commuting to and from work prior to the pandemic. To improve relevance, cities were further categorized by population: small (less than 150,000 people), midsize (between 150,000 and 349,999 people), and large (350,000 people or more). Similar to the statewide trends, former commuters who gained the most time back are predominantly located on the East and West Coasts, as well as Texas.

Here are the cities gaining the most time back from their commutes.

Chart showing small and medium cities that gained the most time back from commutes

Large Cities Gaining the Most Time Back From Their Commutes


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

25. New Orleans, LA

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 9.9%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 4.2 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 42.6 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 68.0%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

24. Dallas, TX

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 10.0%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 4.5 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 45.2 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 76.7%

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Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

23. Arlington, TX

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 10.1%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 4.5 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 44.5 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 82.2%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

22. Portland, OR

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 10.1%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 4.3 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 42.4 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 58.5%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

21. Las Vegas, NV

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 10.3%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 4.4 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 43.1 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 77.1%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

20. Fort Worth, TX

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 10.3%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 4.6 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 44.8 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 82.2%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

19. Houston, TX

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 10.3%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 4.6 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 44.8 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 78.1%

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Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

18. Sacramento, CA

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 10.4%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 4.4 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 42.3 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 73.7%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

17. Detroit, MI

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 10.4%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 4.3 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 41.6 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 69.0%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

16. Atlanta, GA

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 10.5%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 4.7 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 44.8 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 65.6%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

15. Seattle, WA

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 10.8%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 4.7 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 43.9 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 44.4%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

14. Anaheim, CA

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 11.1%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 4.8 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 43.3 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 78.3%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

13. Miami, FL

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 11.3%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 5.1 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 44.8 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 67.2%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

12. Washington, DC

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 11.3%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 5.2 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 45.5 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 34.2%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

11. Aurora, CO

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 11.4%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 5.1 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 44.5 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 76.0%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

10. San Jose, CA

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 11.8%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 5.2 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 43.8 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 76.3%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

9. Baltimore, MD

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 11.9%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 5.3 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 44.2 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 62.2%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

8. Boston, MA

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 12.0%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 5.2 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 43.5 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 38.5%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

7. San Francisco, CA

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 12.0%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 5.5 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 46.0 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 30.3%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

6. Long Beach, CA

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 12.0%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 5.2 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 43.2 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 76.1%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

5. Los Angeles, CA

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 12.4%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 5.4 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 43.6 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 69.6%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

4. Oakland, CA

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 12.6%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 5.6 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 44.2 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 51.5%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

3. Philadelphia, PA

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 13.0%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 5.7 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 44.0 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 49.5%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

2. Chicago, IL

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 13.1%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 5.9 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 44.9 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 48.9%


Photo Credit: Alamy Stock Photo

1. New York, NY

  • Time gained back from not commuting: 15.2%
  • Total commuting time (prior to COVID): 7.0 hours per week
  • Total commuting + working time (prior to COVID): 46.0 hours per week
  • Share of workers who commuted alone by car (prior to COVID): 22.5%

Methodology & Detailed Findings

The data used in this analysis is from the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimates. To identify the cities whose residents gained the most time back from not having to commute during quarantine, the researchers calculated what percentage of the average work week was spent commuting to and from work. Cities were then ranked by this percentage. The researchers also included the share of workers who, prior to COVID, commuted alone by car—the mode of transportation that is least conducive to multitasking.

For some workers, the transition to remote work has been a positive change. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that 59 percent of U.S. workers who have been working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic would like to do so as much as possible in the future. For others, including managers, the shift to remote work has been more challenging. A survey conducted by the Harvard Business Review found that about 40 percent of managers had low confidence in their ability to manage workers remotely, and 38 percent believed that remote workers usually perform worse than those who work on-site.

Despite the potential drawbacks of remote work, it is unlikely that workers will resume commuting anytime soon. A survey conducted by S&P Global Market Intelligence in June found that 67 percent of businesses expect to keep new work-from-home policies in place either permanently or for the long-term. As remote work becomes more embedded into American work culture, both employees and employers must learn to embrace the changes and continue to navigate the challenges.