Americans Commute More than they Vacation

The Census Bureau reports that the average American spends more time commuting to and from work than on vacation each year.

U.S. commuting time goes up (AP)

Commuting time is going up, and so is the number of people who travel 90 minutes or more each way. The average one-way commute took 24.3 minutes in 2003, two minutes more than it did in 1990, according to a Census Bureau survey released Wednesday. That adds up to more than 100 hours each year, exceeding the average two weeks of vacation workers have annually. Nationally, only 2 percent of workers log 90-minute one-way commuting times, but their numbers are growing, according to the survey.

New York City and Baltimore, Maryland, have the greatest proportion of long-distance (or “extreme”) commuters — 5.6 percent of their commuters spent 90 minutes or more getting to work. Riverside, California, is third at 5 percent, and Los Angeles, California, and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, round out the top 5 with 3 percent and 2.9 percent, respectively.
On average, workers in New York City spent the longest time traveling to work: 38 minutes, some nine minutes longer than their counterparts in Los Angeles. Commuters in Chicago, Illinois, were second at 33 minutes. The Census Bureau says the shortest commutes — 17 minutes or less — were in Corpus Christi, Texas; Wichita, Kansas; and Tulsa, Oklahoma.

Nationally, less than 5 percent of commuters took public transportation. When they did, it often took a few minutes longer to get to work than for those who drove, the survey showed.

Interesting, if unsurprising. My one-way commute ranges from 40 to 90 minutes, depending on the vagaries of traffic, usually falling in the 45-60 minute range. Taking public transportation would at triple the commute, in that I would have to go out of my way to park in a commuter lot, take a bus to the subway station, ride the subway to the stop nearest the office, and then either walk or take a cab the five miles to my office.

The news people in Tulsa are giddy. Of course, they do live in Tulsa, so they need something to get excited about. I spent nearly a year in Oklahoma doing my initial entry training as an Army field artillery officer and noted at the time that every song that mentioned Oklahoma did so in the context of getting out of that state.

The folks in Newark are much less excited. Not only do they have a long commute but they wind up in Newark at both ends.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Kathy K says:

    Odd… the only two songs I can think of about Oklahoma are: “Oklahoma” (From the play/movie) and “Okie from Muskogee”, neither of which fits your description.

  2. dw says:

    I guess I should defend my hometown, but considering I packed up and left Tulsa at 18, I’m probably not in a position to.

    Tulsa is in the nicer part of the state, though. Were you at Ft. Sill, James? Because Lawton is probably what purgatory looks like.

    I’ve run through every Oklahoma song in my head and can’t think of one where anyone is leaving Oklahoma. In fact, I think they’re all going there. “Tulsa Time,” he’s going back to Tulsa. Last verse of “By The Time I Get To Phoenix” he’s made Oklahoma. Gene Pitney is trying to get back to Tulsa. “You’re The Reason God Made Oklahoma,” well, I’m really sorry for you.

    Tulsa’s still trying to float by on the last oil booms, but it’s a really sad town to be in. Something like 2/3rds of my high school graduating class chooses to live elsewhere, mostly in Dallas or Houston. This is 15 years out from graduation, BTW.

  3. James Joyner says:

    Mostly kidding on Tulsa, although, yes, Lawton was less-than-nice.

    I’ll have to think some on the songs, although a friend and I at OBC noted the same thing. I would note that the opening line to “Tulsa Time” is “I left Oklahoma drivin’ in a Pontiac.” Indeed, my guess is that lyric spawned the observation, which we later confirmed with some other examples.

  4. Jack Tanner says:

    ‘California Cotton Fields’ would be another.

  5. dw says:

    In “Tulsa Time” the singer (Don Williams or Eric Clapton depending on your preference) leaves Oklahoma, goes to Hollywood, hates it, then heads back east to Okieland. So yeah, you’re right up to the final verse.

    Every song about Tulsa has something about going back there or someone being there as far as I can recall. Oklahoma City has no songs about it.

  6. James Joyner says:

    DW: True enough. Of course, I’ve always thought the point of the song is “I’m a failure, so might as well go back to Oklahoma.” Heh.

  7. Jack Tanner says:

    ‘(Don Williams or Eric Clapton depending on your preference)’

    That anyone would have Clapton as a preference on Tulsa Time is kinda sad.