New York, D.C.-area workers face longest commutes

September 30, 2013
Photo: J. David Ake, Associated Press
Photo: J. David Ake, Associated Press

Residents of the nation’s financial and governmental centers spend longer getting to and from work than other Americans, according to Census Bureau statistics released earlier this month, in part because they rely more on public transportation than their compatriots in other cities.

The data show residents of four of New York City’s five boroughs spend more than 40 minutes a day traveling to and from work. Bronx residents take 42.8 minutes every day to get to their places of employment, tops in the nation. And residents of several suburban and exurban counties around Washington, D.C., including Stafford, Fauquier and Prince William counties in Virginia and Charles, Calvert and Prince George’s counties, Maryland, also spend nearly 40 minutes a day getting to and from work.

But they’re not sitting in their cars. The data show people who live in New York and near Washington rely most heavily on public transportation. Six in 10 residents of Kings County and Bronx County took trains, subways or buses to work, as did 38 percent of residents of the District of Columbia.

Virginia and Maryland residents take less advantage of public transportation than those who live in Washington itself. The suburban counties where travel times are the highest are all dependent on traffic-choked roads like Interstate 95, the Beltway and the Inter-County Connector in Maryland.

Those who commute via public transportation spend more time on the road than those who drive their own cars.

Twenty percent of residents of New York County — the island of Manhattan — walked to work every day, by far the highest percentage in the country. More than 11 percent of Boston and Washington residents, along with those who live in and around Ithaca, New York, also eschewed vehicles in favor of their own two feet.

Meanwhile, residents of smaller rural counties were less likely to rely on public transportation. Almost 93 percent of residents in Greenwood County, S.C., west of Columbia, drove to work alone. They spent an average of 20.8 minutes commuting every day. More than nine in 10 workers in Ascension and Ouachita parishes, Louisiana and Putnam County, Tennessee drove to work alone as well.

Nationally, Americans spent an average of 25.7 minutes traveling to and from work, the new estimates from the American Community Survey found. About three quarters of us, 76.3 percent, drove to work alone, while just 5 percent chose public transportation and 2.8 percent walked to work.

Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post's GovBeat blog. He's a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he's a complete political junkie.
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Reid Wilson | September 30, 2013