According to the Census Bureau, the typical American worker spends about 100 hours—just over 4 full days–commuting to work each year. And that’s just the morning commute; it doesn’t even count the trip back home.
Now, 100 hours may not seem like that much spread out over a full year. But consider this: most workplaces offer just 80 hours of paid vacation per year.
Washington’s commutes (pdf link) are tenth-longest in the nation, but are a mere 30 seconds longer than the national average: 24.8 minutes, vs. 24.3 minutes for the typical US resident. Oregon and Idaho commuters have it a little easier: they average 21 minutes (ranked 36th of 50 states) and 19.5 minutes (41st of 50), respectively.
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While these differences may seem small, a few minutes per day is nothing to sneeze at. Every extra minute you spend on a one-way commute translates into more than 8 extra hours spent in transit each year.
But even though small differences really do matter, what’s most surprising to me is how uniform commuting patterns seem to be. The range of average commuting times is really fairly narrow: most states—and most drivers—cluster around the national average. And residents of New York state, who take the longest to get to work, spend just 6 minutes a day more than the national average. Of course, perhaps it should come as little surprise that commute times are so uniform—if commutes get too long, many people try to reorganize their lives to make them shorter, by changing the time of their commute, or the location of their job or residence.
It’s also helpful to see the national data, since it helps to put local traffic woes in context. For example, for all of the talk of excessive traffic delays around Puget Sound (where I live), King county ranks just 87th among US counties (pdf link), nowhere near the top—and certainly not extreme for an urban county. Likewise, urban Seattle commutes are just a minute or two longer the national average for all commuters, and Portland commutes are a minute or two shorter. Plenty of commuters in, say, New York and Georgia and Maryland and Texas spend more time in their cars each morning.
Like everyone, I wish my morning commute were shorter. But I guess I can live with being about average.