Census: More Maryland and Virginia drivers commute to another county than other people in the U.S.

Lured by jobs in the District or the burgeoning Dulles corridor — but unwilling or unable to live there — more people in Virginia and Maryland commute to work in another county than anywhere else in the nation, U.S. Census Bureau figures released Thursday show.

More than 51 percent of Virginians and 47 percent of Maryland residents drive to another county for work. Only New Jersey, whose workforce feeds into Philadelphia and New York, comes close.

The latest release of census data also shows Maryland edging out New York and New Jersey for the longest daily commute, a statewide average of almost 32 minutes that reflects congestion around Washington, Baltimore and other communities in the state.

When the census zooms in on metropolitan areas, the Washington region keeps its lock on second-worst commute, a status it achieves in virtually every snapshot of congestion produced by people who keep track of such things. Baltimore rounds out the Top 10.

What’s surprising is that the New York metro area ranks first and the perennial leader — Los Angeles — is nowhere to be found. This, however, is misleading. The Southern California megalopolis has grown so large that the Census Bureau breaks it into two. The sprawl of adjacent Riverside-San Bernadino-Ontario ranks eighth, just behind Atlanta and two spots below Chicago, for the amount of time it takes people to get to work.

More than 86 percent of people nationwide commute by car, and 76 percent of them do it alone, according to the data. Overall, the number of people who commute to work has more than doubled to more than 130 million since 1960.

The latest census data comes not from the 2010 count but from the annual tally known as the American Community Survey that was taken in 2009. Its release coincides with the annual Car-Free Day, which includes celebrations in 1,500 cities in 40 countries. Late Wednesday more than 11,000 Washington area drivers had pledged to go car-free or “car-lite” by taking public transit, carpooling, turning to bicycles or using their own feet, according to Commuter Connections, the regional transportation program coordinated by the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments.

The commuting statistics reflect what is fairly obvious to most people who commute: As the nation becomes more populous, it takes longer to get to work. The survey found commuting time was up a fraction, more people were commuting alone by car and the number taking public transportation declined by a hair. Foreign-born commuters were more likely than others to take public transportation.

More than 4 percent of people worked at home, and almost 2 percent commuted by motorcycle, bicycle or taxicab.

Women tend to leave for work a few minutes later than men, the survey showed, and that may be correlated to the fact that they have shorter commutes. More people leave for work between 7 and 7:30 a.m. than at any other time.

The time it takes to get to work has been creeping up since 1980, when the Census Bureau began collecting data on commuting. That year, the average time nationwide was just under 22 minutes. Since 2000, the number has stalled at about 25 minutes.

Ashley Halsey reports on national and local transportation.
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