Automakers Take Note: Americans Are Changing How They Commute to Work

A structural shift with some significance for the auto industry.

Since we’re keeping a keen eye on the auto industry, this trend could become meaningful.

In large urban areas where millions of people are trying to get to work every day, commutes can be long and stressful. As conditions go from awful to %#@*& terrible, people are trying to find alternatives – moving closer to work, taking mass transit, telecommuting, walking, etc. And driving, while still by far the top way of getting to work in America, has lost some ground.

Back in August 2007, 85% of adults with full-time or part-time jobs drove themselves to work; and another 6% rode to work with someone else (such as riding with the spouse, car-pooling, etc.). In total 91% got to work by car.

In August 2017, this total was down to 83%; with 6% getting rides, but only 77% driving themselves to work.

This is what Gallup determined in a poll, where it asked, among other things, this open-ended question:

How do you generally get to work – do you drive yourself, ride with someone else, walk, take mass transportation or something else?

For this open-ended category of “something else,” respondents added in three options “work at home/telecommute,” “bicycle,” and “something else.” In total, respondents named five alternatives to taking a car, and this is how the use of those five alternatives changed from August 2007 to August 2018:

  • Take mass transportation: rose from 4% to 6%
  • Work at home/telecommute: rose from 1% to 3%
  • Walk: rose from 3% to 5%
  • Use bicycle: rose from 0% to 1%
  • Use something else: stayed at 1%.

In total, 9% of the workers in 2007 were using these alternatives. By August 2018, this jumped to 16%.

The chart shows the percent of people who are getting to work by car (columns) – driving (black) and getting a ride (blue) – and using the alternatives (red line):

Clearly, none of the alternatives are taking Americans by storm just yet. Habits change slowly, but once things get miserable enough, even lousy alternatives can become more desirable.

These upticks in each category are small. But together, the small upticks add up, causing the percentage of people who’re driving to drop from 85% to 77% over those years. At this rate, the percentage might drop to something like 69% over the next decade. For automakers, this is not a propitious trend.

But for automakers, another dynamic has mostly countered this trend so far: Between 2007 and 2018, the US population has grown by about 25 million, to 327 million. And “nonfarm employment,” as defined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, has grown by 11 million workers to 149 million. This is why congestion during commute times hasn’t gotten any better, despite the switch away from cars.

In the poll, Gallup also found that the average round-trip time has risen by 4.3 minutes over this period, from 48.1 minutes to 52.4 minutes. Gallup notes that the Census Bureau has found a similar increase.

That 4.3-minute-a-day difference, times five days a week, times 50 weeks a year, translates into 18 hours a year of additional commute on average.

The survey also showed that 21% of the commuters said their commute was “very” or “somewhat stressful.” But for people with long commutes, the percentage was far higher – and this makes intuitive sense:

  • Workers in towns or rural areas: 11%
  • Commuters living in cities: 24%.
  • Commuters living in suburbs: 29%
  • People with commutes of over one-hour: 38%

The trends have been seen elsewhere: As commutes get longer and more stressful, and as traffic congestion gets worse, people, especially younger people, are looking for alternatives, and are organizing their lives around these alternatives, such as working at home some of the time or living in an apartment or condo closer to work – hence the high-rise residential building boom currently playing out in all major urban centers.

This shift is real. While the annual increments are small, spread over time, they will further impact the dynamics of the auto industry.

This might also be a contributing factor to the phenomenon of the rising average age of cars on the road. Here’s a deep dive based on the report by the Federal Highway Administration for 2017 compared to 2009. Read…  Average Age of Cars & Trucks by Household Income and Vehicle Type over Time

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  117 comments for “Automakers Take Note: Americans Are Changing How They Commute to Work

  1. Old dog says:

    If workers added the cost of wasted life (commuting time + stress + missed family time) to the total cost of ownership of a car over, say, 7 years, they would probably refuse to take jobs in congested metros. A small percentage of people work in fulfilling occupations. For most, work is just a punishment from the Gods. A pain they have to endure to keep their families out of homelessness. I wish I had a simple answer to this complex problem.

    • Frederick says:

      Not me I actually loved my work and it was a form of stress relief Designing , financing and actually building reproduction homes and marketing them My commute was an hour each way at 60 mph until I got smart and relocated Then it was a two minute walk next door

    • intosh says:

      For someone who commutes an hour each way, times five days a week, times 50 weeks, that’s 500 waking hours a year. This is roughly one month. So that person is spending a month every year commuting.

      Now, if someone was stuck in traffic an hour every work day, his wasted two weeks of his life every year. If an employer gives this person the option of not having to commute at all but in exchange, his receives one fewer week of vacation, would he accept? I bet most people wouldn’t accept this trade. (Daniel Kahneman probably has an explanation for this absurdity in judgment/decision-making.)

      • Oh … and if you pay attention to something something besides driving for a few seconds during that time you- and perhaps others die a horrible death.

        Two seconds is all it takes …

      • sierra7 says:

        How about if you describe that a different way: If the employer would offer one + (plus) week vacation per year if the employee would move closer to work? How would that work out? Some would call that unrealistic but it would be advantageous to both the employee and the employer….much less stress.

      • Chris says:

        My best-ever commute was a job 50 miles from home that I commuted to nearly every day for most of three years (this was telecommuting in its infancy, maybe one or two days per month working at home instead of in the office) – about an hour each way, somewhat longer in the winter. That was a fun drive! Yeah, a lot of time spent, but it was enjoyable: no boss, no wife, no kids to worry about in that me-time.

        Now is not so bad, either: 3 miles / 6 minutes. I kin live widdit.

    • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

      I read years ago, in a physical book I wish I’d kept because things can be “disappeared” off of the internet but we’re not to the point, at least not yet, where they’re going from house to house taking the books …

      Anyway, it was by a fairly noted person, who said that people walk at, say, 5 MPH. So if you walked everywhere, you’d travel at 5MPH.

      But, if you add up the time it takes to work to buy a car, keep it registered, insured, repaired, housed because it must have a garage or parking spot (so about 50% of any modern area is occupied by cars) washing it, shopping for a new one, etc etc etc., and take that time and divide it by the miles traveled, you’d find you’re achieving about … 5 MPH.

      But I don’t think Wolf’s excellent research is showing that a detectable portion of the population is waking up and realizing this. I think that it’s actually showing is the American population getting poorer. For every San Francisco hipster there are several Americans who are car-less because they can’t afford one any more and they are miserable. An American without a car is like a Plains Indian without a horse. Even I, although I’m pretty certain I’ll never own a car again, dream from time to time about having one.

      So Wolf may have found a way to show the gradual impoverishment of the bottom say 80% of the US population in a way that the figures can’t be cooked.

      • Wolf Richter says:

        This article was about commuting habits and NOT poverty. They’re not linked. Lots of people — including many commenters here — have a car but don’t use it to commute to work.

        Your idea as to what I might be thinking shows how you want to twist everything into your own dystopian narrative. But I can assure you, that’s not at all what I’m thinking.

        • Joe says:

          Wolf: Although I have disagreed with Alex often in WolfStreet comments (particularly on his supposed dearth of lucrative tech jobs in the Bay Area), I think he may have a good point here. Certainly many people have given up driving voluntarily, but many others have had their cars repossessed and no longer have the option of driving.

          There are other ways that commuting and poverty can be linked. For example, you mention in the article that commutes have gotten longer. This is partly due to people moving to exurbs to find affordable housing. Whether their income circumstances have changed in nominal terms is irrelevant if the rampant price increases in housing force them into such a long commute. It’s an impoverishment in real living conditions, and commuting trends are impacted by these shifts.

      • Will says:

        “Anyway, it was by a fairly noted person, who said that people walk at, say, 5 MPH. So if you walked everywhere, you’d travel at 5MPH.”

        The “fairly noted person” that you’re thinking of is Ivan Illich, one of the best social critics of the 20th century (if you like him, you’d also like William Catton, but that’s neither here nor there..). I don’t recall if this was from one of his (several excellent) books, or an essay he’d written – I’ll leave figuring it out as an exercise to the reader..

        But yes, his point was that if you add up all of the time that people are spending in order to afford to drive, they’d actually be better off just walking instead..

    • Tomonthebeach says:

      It looks as though hellish commutes are finally affecting domicile choice.

      Being retired military, my career required me to relocate every 3 years. When you do that, you realize the importance of real estate choices. Over the years, many agents have shared that most their customers prioritize things like cul d’ sacs and proximity to schools and shopping. I always searched in areas located counter the flow of rush hour traffic to my new office. My commute by car was always under 15 minutes, whereas many of my Pentagon colleagues commuted 2 or more hours a day for just such reasons.

  2. L Lavery says:

    I often wonder how many people die of heart attack while driving to, or from, the gym.

    • Frederick says:

      Who needs a gym when you can work physically and buy yourself a nice bicycle The gym is more of a social club from my experience with it Sometimes unwanted socializing is what I experienced from friends of Anderson Cooper Politically incorrect OK deal with it

  3. William Smith says:

    Just be very glad that the George Jetson type of flying cars are not available. In the 60s they were breathlessly promised to be certainly available by the turn of the century (as well as many other things). Just imagine all the cars falling/raining down on the city if they were actually available in today’s overpopulated congested world. We will all have to think and work locally unless they invent teleportation (which most scientists say is impossible). It’s those damned laws of physics that say no two bodies (or cars) can be in the same place (on the freeway) at the same time (hence congestion). It is also impossible for a “solid body” (or transport) to move faster than (or even near) the speed of light: so expect a long squashed commute as the number of “solid bodies” (passengers) increases. My suspicion is that vastly improved telecommuting (VR, Holographics etc) will be developed to notionally “move” people around as they are needed. We are simply not evolved to physically move great distances (such as birds are) continuously, and we will all have to wake up to this immutable fact of physics. Maybe the Hippie communes of the 60s might be re-explored by the young hoping for less of a rat race type existence. I like the 70s movie Z.P.G.

    • RagnarD says:

      I like / agree / hope on the VR / holog future

      As wolf says
      The millenials r not gojng to put up with what their non virtual elders had too

      Good twist to this car ownership theme, wolf

      I’m about of 1/3 of the way thru ur memoir good stuff.

      Real Travel fun hasn’t started yet… just lots of romance. Thats making me jelly. :)

      Not sure of ur musical taste
      But this is what I’d call a good travel oriented pure pop song

      I just re listened and realized Fiji is explicitly named… and that’s the easy part.

  4. Pavel says:

    I used to work and spend time in the Bay Area around 2000 and as a carless individual took the train between SF and Palo Alto a few times a week. On occasion I would get a ride with a friend… the drive varied between 40 and 60 mins (back then) and was extremely stressful with people driving very fast. Mind you, this was in the days before smartphones and drivers talking and texting and doing frigging video blogs whilst driving. God knows what it is like now.

    A simple solution would be to fine any car that didn’t have at least two occupants. If one insists on driving alone in a car designed for 4 or 5 people then pay an extra $25 each way. I suspect this would reduce the number of cars each day by 50%.

    I guess they are trying to do this with HOV lanes but we need something more draconian.

    • farmlad says:

      when it comes to ride sharing to and from work, Americans seem to be totally unable to co-operate. Either the driver doesn’t want to be inconvenienced or the rider refuses to pay a reasonable fee. One reason for this is that most will never sit down and figure up the cost of car ownership and per mile costs and continue to fool themselves into believing that the only expense is fuel. I’ve made some extra cash giving other a ride to and from work but nothing beats taking in that extra nap on the way in to work.

      As long as Americans dream of driverless cars but refuse to pay a coworker 10 bucks for a ride into work then don’t come crying to me about your aweful commute. And a side rant; then they come to farmers market virtue signaling with their reusable bags but never seem to take into account all the lbs of CO2 their cars emitted to get them there.

      • John Taylor says:

        Why is the lowly worker supposed to solve everything? They don’t typically have the time or resources to plan out sophisticated carpooling systems. Big employers could much more easily look at employee data and provide special bussing systems.

        In the past, the government subsidized Amtrak rates heavily and planned out things in communities like how commuters could get to and from work.

        With today’s wages, the sweet spot for rail would be around $5 each way … more than that and mass transit takes up way too much of your daily income. Most rail rates are more like $20 each way (I live in Los Angeles).

        There are solutions, but they have to come from the top – from those with the information, time, and resources to solve a SYSTEMIC problem.

    • van_down_by_river says:

      I like the way you think. Unfortunately you appear to be part of a tiny minority of people.

    • RagnarD says:

      Agreed on the nap to / fro work
      Don’t know it till uv done it

    • MCH says:

      It would not happen in CA, definitely not the Bay Area without ugly politics getting into it. The Dems would never have it. It would be billed as a tax on the poor.

      Bay Area traffic has gotten worse, consider how bad 280 between San Jose and SF has gotten in the last decade. They could turn the freeways into toll roads, it would help with congestion.

      Would be curious to see age variations on those data above, I suppose if costs truly come down on Uber and it’s types, we might have a further increase in percentage of those types of riders.

  5. Dan Romig says:

    For me to take the light-rail to work costs $5 round trip, and it takes about a half hour between walking to the train station and arriving downtown.

    To drive my car or motorbike, parking costs $3.00 an hour and it’s a pain in the ass to find a parking spot. On a Sunday morning, the 5 miles takes around 12 minutes, but in traffic it takes 20 to 35 minutes.

    Bicycling to work on the bike path that runs next to the light-rail tracks at a leisurely pace takes 19 to 22 minutes depending on wind, and it’s free. This is now my mode of transit to work. When Minneapolis’ winter weather hits again, I’ll go back to driving, but in the meantime I take satisfaction in riding my bike and keeping more of the money I work for.

    One’s quality of life is inversely proportionate to how much time one spends commuting to and from work in bumper-to-bumper traffic on the expressway or in stop-and-go traffic waiting for a green light in the city!

    • Pavel says:

      Alternatively one can walk to the train station and count that daily walk as healthy exercise. These days with podcasts to listen to or language lessons it is also useful education time.

      This is not to criticise in the least your decision to cycle, which is fabulous! One of the few urban improvements I’ve noticed in e.g. NY, London, and elsewhere is the increase in commuting by bicycle. Of course in some cities (Amsterdam and Copenhagen come to mind) this has long been the practice.

    • JohnnySacks says:

      Parking $3 an hour? Kendall Square in Cambridge is getting really skilled at extracting discretionary income from it’s growing biotech workers: $35 a day parking, $20 lunches in the trendy new restaurants, zero concern about improving commutes for those unlucky enough to not be convenient to mass transit, and a mass transit system that costs $300 a month to use for a 20 mile ride plus another $80 for parking if one can’t walk. But a bike’s cheap if you want to pay $2500+ for a 100 year old 2br or $2000+ for a new studio rent.

      Even the mass transit is 2 1/2 hours gone per day but at least I’ve got a better grip on my sanity than driving. I’ve tried asking for 9 hours a day for 9 days and a day off, 10 hours a day for 4 days and a day off, work from home a day a week. No policy for any. Luckily they subsidize parking or mass transit, but either doesn’t help one get any semblance of a better life, sigh. Then my vehicles rust out and electrical systems go to hell after a decade and a half – punished by the yearly inspection crucifixion – no sticker, no drive.

  6. Kent says:

    I just left my job as IT Director of a neighboring county to Director of my city government. It’s a $20k pay cut but the daily commute goes from 50 minutes (one way) to 8 minutes. Well worth it for me.

    • Wolf Richter says:


      There are many people like you. In Bay Area, where even moderate commutes (20 miles) can be atrocious, young people entering the workforce or moving to the Bay Area, actively look for alternatives.

      When we moved to Manhattan in August 2001 (yeah, perfect timing), the first thing we did was get rid of both of our cars (insurance and parking cost a fortune). That was really great. If we wanted to go somewhere on the occasional weekend, we’d rent a car at one of the rental agencies just blocks away. Uber didn’t exist then, so we took taxis late at night, and I commuted to work by a combo of subway and shoe-leather.

    • RangerOne says:

      Not a terrible pay cut if it involves a massive quality of life improvement. A 50 minute drive is painful.

    • Petunia says:

      Good luck in your new job.

      A lawyer I know in the West Palm Beach area tells me the only people who can afford to ride the new rail line between WPB and Miami, which also stops in Ft. Lauderdale, are the lawyers going to hear cases in the three towns. A round trip between WPB and FT. Lauderdale is $40 plus $6 for parking. The only reason they use the rail line is because they can bill their clients for the fare.

      • Suzie Alcatrez says:

        You can buy a monthly pass for weekday travel from WPB to the Metro-rail transfer station for only $100.

        I think your lawyer might be overcharging you.

  7. Colin says:

    Americans are cutting back. Just like with the birth rate being down, housing down, cable TV subscriptions down, cheap cremations doing well, and college football and baseball attendance down as well. They didn’t have the welfare state in the Depression and they survived. I have no idea if we’d survive today without the welfare state, so that would mean you’re actually worse off than during the Depression. During good times Americans shouldn’t be cutting back.

    • Frederick says:

      It’s NOT good times That’s an illusion created by cheap money and the FEDS QE program That will become ever more evident very shortly Hedge accordingly people

    • Suzie Alcatrez says:

      You should read up on the Work Programs Administration and Federal Project Number One before you conclude there was no welfare state in the 1930’s.

      • sierra7 says:

        There was also a program called: “Relief”……a smaller version of the “welfare state” conditions that exist today. We had a very poor family neighbor who used this system.
        The attitude today is that anyone using “welfare” is no good for nothings. It’s horrible. We have lots to learn yet as to what consists a decent society.
        CCC camps in the mountains and forests for the youngsters at risk from anywhere….great for them and great for our forests.

  8. Dave P says:

    Now add in the prohibitive cost of a new car or lightly used car , as well as the onerous loan terms if you are stretching your budget, to the aforementioned headwinds.

  9. Mike Earussi says:

    The present economic model of the auto manufacturers is dying, and not necessarily slowly. Within 10 years of the successful introduction of the driverless car most who live in the city will no longer need to own one as economical taxis services will replace private cars.

    Car sales will easily drop 50% within 20 years causing massive disruption in the industry. This will cause many auto companies to enter the taxi business just to survive.

    Owning stock in one of the auto manufacturers will be something of a crap shoot as there’s no way to know which ones will come out on top and which ones will die (because a LOT will die).

    • cdr says:

      You don’t really believe that, do you? If anyone told you that, they were lying. Ostrich economics.

      • Jim Graham says:

        “”Ostrich economics.””

        You, kind madam/sir, has their head in the sand.

    • cdr says:

      Driverless cars are a weird fantasy that somehow captured the imagination of bloggers. (How that happened would be a great study – why did something so obviously not likely to appear soon or even later, become such a fad to claim is just around the corner? Great psy-ops study.)

      Even if they magically appeared, everyone would want one, thus driving car mfgr sales for more decades. Sleep in the back while the car got you there. Uber wouldn’t get much out of it except lower labor costs.

      • Wolf Richter says:


        You need to get out a little more. Thousands of driverless cars already exist, have driven for many millions of miles, and are already taking people around. For now, they’re not for sale. So YOU cannot buy one, but that doesn’t mean they don’t exist.

        You probably think that broadband via cellphones is an over-hyped pipe dream too. But I tell you what. I have been using it for years. I set up my smartphone as a hotspot for my laptop. I’m currently in the Sierra Nevada without wifi, and I’m getting 14.8 megabits per second upload speed and 5 Mbps download speed (I just did a speed test). This is faster than my broadband Comcast at home.

        Your problem seems to be that if you’re uninformed about something, you think it doesn’t exist.

        • Joe Banks says:

          Wolf you being disingenuous. “Thousands of them already exist.” In 2016 there were 263 million registered vehicles in the US. “Thousands” of driverless cars is wholely insignificant no matter how hard you try to dress up the numbers

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Joe Banks,

          But they exist. And they’re driving around. I see them driving around in San Francisco rush-hour traffic. Lamborghinis also exist in small numbers. Cdr denied that autonomous cars exist or will ever exist — which is pure nonsense because they already exist.

        • Joe Banks says:

          There are 263,000,000 registered vehicles on the road today. If as you say there are “thousands” (let’s say 50k), then .0002 of the vehicles on the road today are driverless. Come on, Americans are changing their driving habits?

        • Wolf Richter says:

          Joe Banks,

          You’re being silly and you know it. You’re connecting two things that NO ONE connected. 1. The ARTICLE was about driving habits. 2. My COMMENT was in RESPONSE to cdr’s off-topic COMMENT which began thusly: “Driverless cars are a weird fantasy that somehow captured the imagination of bloggers.”

  10. kk says:

    25 million more Americans in the 10 years from 2007 ie about 8% more and commutes have gone up around 8% – who’d a thought it!

  11. R Hughes says:

    Wolf, slightly off topic, but haven`t seen an article on used car prices in awhile or I would have posted there. Since percentage of sales of new SUV, light trucks keep rising and percentage of regular cars (sedans, etc) keep falling (referring to trend lines), do rising used car prices apply to both categories equally or are used SUV etc. rising faster than sedans? Have you detected any sweet spots in used car prices?

    • Wolf Richter says:

      R Hughes,

      I get data every month on how prices in each used-vehicle category are doing in terms of a year-over-year comparison — such as luxury SUVs, crossovers, compact cars, etc.. But this data is jumpy. What I don’t have is an index for each category so that we can track it over time. That would be interesting to see.

      Compact cars are holding up very well in the used-vehicle market – lots of demand for lower-priced vehicles. But there were weaknesses recently in the luxury sector.

      On a side note — to stick with the theme of being off topic — I just talked to someone at the EV charging station down the block from us (I talk to owners of all kinds of EVs there; they love talking about their cars and they’re stuck there for 30 min or so). She was charging up her BMW i3. It was loaded with the sports package. The car is like a small SUV, nice leather interior, huge wheels, low-profile tires, etc. This is a $50,000 car when new. The car was two years old when she bought it as a lease-turn-in recently from a BMW dealer. She paid $20,000! This price collapse in the used market for EVs has to do with the uncertainty of the battery as it gets older. All EVs seem to be impacted by this price collapse on the used market.

      • Lou Mannheim says:

        The price drop also could be attributed to the fact it is a BMW. I recently moved to Austin from NYC and have been looking to buy a used car. BMWs really fall off a cliff in year 3, I wonder why anyone would buy new.

        I’m also stumped on whether to get a car. Austin ain’t NYC, but it’s very walkable in areas, and they have a decent bus system. I think I’m going to get a nice bike instead.

        • RagnarD says:

          A bike in Austin?
          Check the thermometer
          Austin ain’t nyc

        • Javert Chip says:

          I do 3-years leases on BMWs (in my 8th car), which includes the scheduled maintenance; if this applied to “pre-owned” cars, maybe some of the price drops is simply the run-off at the 3-year point of the “all inclusive + scheduled Maint” warranty.

        • Mark says:

          A certified pre-owned BMW is a great choice. They’ll give you a 6 year, 100,000 mile warrantee on a car with 20-25k miles on it. Anything goes wrong, they take care of it.

          I bought a new 328i in 2016 – 50k miles now and no problems. It’s a great car, but I’d go certified pre-owned if I buy another expensive car.

          Truth is, I’d much rather bike to work if that were an option…

        • R Hughes says:

          BIL does this, off lease 2014 750 Il BMW, full warranty. With only 45k engine went out. Known issue with oil pump and bearing channels. Required total engine replacement. Also has had numerous electronic issues. Was told dealer bill back to BMW was 12k, who knows what they would have charged a customer. Moral of story never buy expensive foreign car without extended warranty.

      • RagnarD says:

        $50k for an electric version of the smart car?!

        Wolf breathlessly expesses…
        Low profile tires
        Leather interior
        The works!

        I parked next to one do these for. Month at work

        “Must have” if ur trying to impress friends who also “must have” the next iPhone and flat screen.

        I know
        I’m way over my quot on this thread

  12. Joe Banks says:

    “Clearly, none of the alternatives are taking Americans by storm just yet.” Wolf you are understating it. Local and state governments around the country are spending billions of taxpayers dollars to build public transportation, much if wasted (Cal bullet train), in an effort to get us out of our cars. Central planning. F that; you are telling me that billions of dollars is worth miniscule results over an 11 year period? Also don’t forget that money spent on public transportation is less for widening and building new roads which would have lessened the increase in utilizing alternatives. Autos = liberty and freedom. Don’t ever forget that Wolf. Elites and government officials tell us to ride bikes which most of them will never do. Don’t get me started

    • wkevinw says:

      Yes. The parameters for economically sustainable mass transit are well known, but the elites do not publicize them. One parameter is population density. Places like most urban sprawl metro areas in Southern California will not qualify for a long time. Bay Area Rapid Transit Trains might now pull their own weight(not keeping track any more), but for at least the first 20 years BART was subsidized. SF/Bay area probably has the highest population density in the west, and has some barely sustainable mass transit systems.

      I am always amazed at the costs people will endure to commute.

    • Adam says:

      When Los Angeles was renovating the 405, it opted to install an extra lane instead of putting in public transportation. The effect was that more cars went on the 405 and offset any benefit the extra lane had on flow of traffic. So government is still building and expanding roads, but it doesn’t necessarily help.

      • Michael Fiorillo says:

        Yes, and Glibertarians tell us that building/expanding mass transit is an example of that evil “central planning.”

        But building/expanding highways – a subsidy to the auto, pertoleum and other related industries – is not.

      • sierra7 says:

        I remember when in San Jose (CA) the “new” #85 was going to take the pressure off #280 in the commute from N. Cupertino to #101 ; now both are just a ribbon of solid steel during major commutes. That’s progress. The wider you build the newer “freeways” the more cars infest them.
        The cure: a complete redesign of our society.
        We still have the “freedom” to continue to do stupid things.

    • HB Guy says:

      Joe Banks:

      I live in Orange Co, CA. I work from home (~ 25% of my employer – Johnson & Johnson, also do), and travel frequently for my job. I choose to take public transit – the bus – in the OC because it empowers me to walk, enjoy my neighborhood, not get stuck on the FWY, etc. – or if I’m in a hurry, I’m one of Lyft’s best customers. I also use ride-sharing on all of my business trips and haven’t rented a car for the past three years in IOUSA or Canada.

      I have a 2013 Ford Focus Electric that sits in my garage most of the time, as I don’t have to commute. If I do need to go to my office in Irvine, I do it in off-peak times, but infrequently. We use it on the w/e to go out to dinner, movies or down to the beach. It has 23k miles on it, and has been the best car – by far – that I’ve ever owned. I’ve spent less than $200 on maintenance since buying it, and the battery, motor, inverter, etc. are covered in California for 10 years or 150k miles. All that said, as enjoyable as my car has been, I far prefer the train, bus or ride-sharing.

      Why? I enjoy reading, connecting with my beautiful community and neighborhood, and can do many useful things on my iPhone while leaving the driving to someone else. So, don’t assume that “Autos = liberty and freedom”. Not on an OC/SD/LA FWY, not at the gas station, not at the dealer’s repair shop, not stuck in traffic, etc. I’m happy the government incentivizes other options, even though I have a choice and the means to exercise it.

      • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

        HBguy – I don’t know if the program is still in place, but you may, as a “local” be able to buy a permit for $200 a year that allows you to park at any parking meter with a blue pole at the beach and not pay the dollars-per-hour rate visitors do. I had some metal-detecting neighbors in Costa Mesa who did that.

        Also, you’re in a great town for biking. There’s the beach boardwalk, the Santa Ana River Trail, etc and on a good bike you can cover a huge, really rather nice, area.

        I’ve taken the bus in Orange County; I’m sure you’ve heard the local nickname for the OCTD, the Occasionally Convenient Transportation Dept. It’ll get you where you need to go.

        “Autos = liberty & freedom” is a meme with older people I think.

    • Alistair McLaughlin says:

      The long term costs of owning and maintaining a vehicle are a financial ball and chain for millions of lower-middle income earners. And commutes are hell. There’s no freedom in either. If autos represented freedom from government, we wouldn’t need the government to build roads now would we? Roads would be entirely paid for by the users via spontaneous market mechanisms. But no, roads have to be planned carefully, by a central authority we call government. That would be central planning. If you’re going to make an argument, at least have an argument.

  13. unit472 says:

    How one commutes probably depends a great deal on ones marital/homeownership and family status. Single person households are more numerous now so he/she/it can use whatever option is most convenient for them including moving closer to work. DINKS are also pretty free to do the same but if you’ve bought a house and or have kids it gets a lot more complicated and the car is the easiest solution.

    So what we maybe seeing is not a change in commuting habits but a change in the composition of the workforce that will reverse whenever/if ever Generation X grows up.

    • Joe says:

      The world has 7.6 billion people already, and you want younger generations to keep making more?

      Here’s a tip: We’re not doing that. We’re not going to keep pumping out kids to pay into a broken system and subsidize the largesse of previous generations.

      This planet is consuming fossil fuel energy far faster than anything can replenish it. We’re at the breaking point already. It’s time to trim back.

  14. RangerOne says:

    While I personally don’t like to do it now, telecommuting is likely the future. At the end of the day companies will realize also that they have a larger cheaper talent pool if they don’t have to relocate people and their employees can work from anywhere in the country or world.

    Saves on office space too. People save on commutes. I think good augmented reality will be needed to make this a really good alternative to working in an office. I do think being able to interacte with people in a physical environment is key to team building.

    Today with call ins and telecoms it’s possible but I still prefer going into the office.

    • Suzie Alcatrez says:

      Telecommuting will never catch on. Management has issues with job security.

      • Bobber says:

        What do you mean by that? If people don’t see them barking orders all day, the managers lose credibility?

      • HB Guy says:

        Wrong. At least 25% of my employer and other Pharma/Life Science companies allow their employees to telecommute. Many IT staff in other large organizations also telecommute.

      • Stopinstigating says:

        Ridiculous. I work in IT for a major bank and have worked remotely for years. After working out at the gym in the morning, I love listening to the traffic reports. MUCH less stress and my coffee is WAY better!

    • sierra7 says:

      Collecting garbage….home care….most “scut work”…..”telecommuting”….Only the privileged will be able to completely “telecommute”.

      • Joe says:

        Some people actually study in school, then get full-ride scholarships, then get good jobs, which can lift them and their families out of poverty. I speak from personal experience. But sure, go ahead, call us privileged. I guess that’s easier than studying and working hard when you (or your kids?) had the chance.

  15. polecat says:

    MDGA –“Make Dirigibles Great Again”

    Here’s a potential business prospect – Blimps !! .. slow, quiet commuting amongst the neo-dinosaurs .. what’s not to like ! .. probably the least stressful way of conveyance, short of a bullet-train that goes somewhere. They could even be constucted to look like Animals .. such as, say, a floating Hydrogen Pig, so as to know where the VCs & PE folks float ! `;]
    Seriously though, I think it would work, certainly in a less frenetic culture, where time is NOT of one’ essences !

  16. GSH says:

    Despite the promise of telecommuting, people keep moving into cities. Some of the (Eastern) Oregon hinterlands are now virtually deserted. Same story up here in the BC islands. These places were vibrant small communities 50-100 years ago. They are mostly empty now. Why? It is part of the shift from a production economy (e.g. farming, logging, fishing,…) to a consumption economy (the one dying with the most stuff wins).

    • unit472 says:

      Access to healthcare for an ageing population also makes rural living problematic and rural hospitals are closing.

      • Michael Fiorillo says:

        Urban hospitals are being closed, too, which is much more about neoliberal profit imperatives than it is supply and demand.

    • Max Power says:

      Many of these rural places were farming communities or little towns which served as as hubs for smaller surrounding farming communities.

      Their reduction in pop is not necessarily being affected by a shift from production to consumption (i.e., not in the sense that agricultural production has gone down). America is still the bread basket of the world but as farming became vastly more mechanized and automated, these areas lost a significant chunks of population.

      Thanks to tractors, combines, GPS, drones, Round-Up, automated irrigation, and other advances it takes way less people today to produce the same amount of agricultural goods as 100 years ago.

    • Matt P says:

      Telecommuting isn’t all roses. There’s a lot of resentment about those who get to telecommute if it’s not a companywide policy yet and the telecommuter often gets blamed for problems. It will take a while to become more common.

      • alex in san jose AKA digital Detroit says:

        The trouble with telecommuting is, if you’re in a company of any size, telecommuting means trading off a non-commute for career advancement death. Without those in-person meetings, those witty bon mots at the water cooler, literally smelling each others’ farts in the hallways, your career advancement comes to a screeching halt.

        Wasn’t there some lady who was in charge of some large tech company who essentially called for a halt to all telecommuting in her company recently?

        • Suzie Alcatrez says:

          If your talking about Yahoo!, it it was sold and is now called Oath.

        • HB Guy says:

          That would either be IBM (I hope you brought money) or HP (High priced). Neither have been doing all that well, of late…

        • Stopinstigating says:

          The CEO was Marissa Mayer, the company was Yahoo and the year was 2013.

    • Paulo says:


      You are right in that your statement reflects the depopulation of the BC Coast, (Ocean Falls, all the canneries, Rupert, family logging camps etc). However, closer to 49, growth and crowded roads is like a cancer.

      My brother lives on Quadra and has for the last 40 years. It’s a freaking nightmare with over crowded ferries, tourist pressures, etc. Having lived in Powell River for 9 years (back in the ’70s) I vowed to never ever live where I had to use a ferry. If you are a Vancouver Islander and don’t have to travel, most people just don’t. The south Island is now so damn busy it is beyond vibrant….it is vibrating right off the map. People are even relocating from down-island to Sointula, another ferry dependent island community. If you live on Cortes, the summer influx is so bad locals park their cars overnight in the ferry lineup just to ensure they make the sailing. Many locals leave for the summer to escape the crowds.

      When I have flown over Saltspring I am astounded at the vast subdivisions. It is heartbreaking. Ladysmith is developing 1,000 new homes along Stocking Creek, and 1700 new homes are going up in Union Bay….right now.

      In Sayward, where I moved to 15 years ago from Campbell River, many of us are trying to stop rapid change without entrenching/choosing sides, and we give thanks for the ALR (Agricultural Land Reserve) and the vast tracts of Crown land tied up in forestry tenure. Campbell River has been building itself into unrestrained growth since the early ’80s.

      I heartily agree that the economy has changed and I have witnessed this first hand as my career was dependent on logging. Once the Quota System was repealed, along with Apurtenance, the industry has been in rapid decline….mimicing fishing.

      My son lives about 300 metres from me and works in Alberta, two weeks on and two weeks off. His car sits most of the time. It is a new reality for many. He commutes every two weeks by jet from Comox. When he works he works hard for 12 hours each day. When he is home he is free to do what he decides. Think of it of having a two week vacation every month. It is cretainly a better quality of life than I had when working and raising a family.

      I have always wondered why more people don’t work a long commute away? My best friend flys helicopters and makes a year’s salary in 3 months. He could live anywhere in the world. I used to fly drillers who worked in the middle of nowhere, but lived in a swanky west end Vancouver condo. I cracked up when they changed into town clothes from their greasy coveralls; nice shirt, slacks, and an attache case for their paperwork. They too made a years income in a few months. It is something worth considering over the rat race.


      • HB Guy says:

        Paulo, the Cascadia mega quake will solve many of the problems you’ve mentioned. In the meantime, I’m sorry to hear that Salt Spring has become just another suburban heaven.

  17. Ambrose Bierce says:

    In the midst of the financial crisis they rolled out a new regional commuter train for my region. It links with the coastal commuter train on the Amtrak line. In order to use it I would have to take a bus three miles to the nearest train station, to me it makes no sense, but when my kids come from the midwest they make a day of it. Just a matter of looking at things with a fresh set of eyes.

  18. elysianfield says:

    “… younger people, are looking for alternatives, and are organizing their lives around these alternative….”

    Mr Richter,
    Truth to this statement. I have a 16 year old grandson, to whom I offered a small V-twin motorcycle as a gift…he refused it, and instead wanted a mountain Bicycle.

    When I was 16, I would have laid waste to whole neighborhoods to have owned that motorcycle.

    • Jim Graham says:

      “”When I was 16, I would have laid waste to whole neighborhoods to have owned that motorcycle.””

      Amen to that…..

  19. Matt P says:

    I ride the bus every day and it sucks, but sitting in traffic every day sucks so much more. At least on the bus I get to read.

  20. cdr says:

    Glad to be out of that rat race. I’m retired. My commute is from bed, after sleeping late, to the kitchen. Then off to the PC to see what’s up in the world and plan things out. My major regular commute is to the health club.

    Now that rates are higher and expected to rise even more, I have been rewarded with a livable income and a feeling of security. Had globalism succeed and low rates become the new normal, the commute thing might be a bigger problem for me. The life described above would be for the upper 1%.

  21. Kye Goodwin says:

    For 10,000 years, from the beginnings of agriculture right up until the last few centuries, technology was basically unchanged, but in the 20th century change was so rapid that a belief in ever-accelerating innovation took hold. But maybe what we’re actually seeing is the beginning of a new long stable period, at least in transportation technology. Rip van Winkles from the 1950’s would be surprised that this problem of fitting all the daily commuters onto the road system is still a central issue for society. The personal hovercraft and helicopters never came to be, not to mention the matter transmitter or hyperspace wormholes. In a thousand years there will probably still be automobiles, probably electric, and probably supplied with energy from a source we’re already using. As other commenters have suggested, the big innovation will be replacing physical transportation with communication.

  22. jb says:

    well let me throw something else into the mix. just read an article where 7 million people lost their driving privileges because of unpaid tickets (Washington post). Maybe related to the success of amazon and demise of brick and mortar

  23. cdr says:

    Re WP – a new cause. Anger for inscrutable reasons, possible need to support low wage people to get to work (globalist way). Faux rage about the system to support cheap labor.

    Re Amazon success: not hardly. Amazon succeeds because they offer the world at affordable prices.

    Odd that Amazon owns WP.

  24. ft says:

    One afternoon in the spring of 1967, I drove my ratty old Ford pickup onto Highway 17 at Hamilton Ave in San Jose, set up the hand throttle for about 57mph, and ran all the way to the Ashby Ave exit off the Eastshore Highway in Berkeley (50mi?) without touching anything but the steering. A work commute that long was doable back then. Well, I won’t be around to see how much worse the congestion is in another fifty years, but I think more than just auto companies are gonna get choked.

  25. RagnarD says:

    As a pretty big 3rd world backpacker…

    I offer what I saw during 2 weeks roaming all over Philippines in 2011.

    Essentially no one owns a private car. If u own a car it is for commercial purposes.
    Shipping stuff or transporting people.

    I contrast this to the superfluous $60k – &100k trophy luxury SUV adorned by many a relatively attractive, thin / fit / petite female in the USA. A vehicles whose physical Tasks consist of taking the lady to yoga/market and chauffeuring the kids.

    My theory on this HUGE disparity in vehicle wealth / efficiency usage…

    USA land of the money printer.

    Do u have a view on this Wolf?

  26. Lion says:

    As other commenters mentioned, most commuters do not know the full costs of maintaining the vehicle they use. The last half of my career I had a short commute of 8 miles. It was a blessing. The first half was fighting traffic for 2 plus hours, and when it rained, 3 plus hours. The commutes beat up the vehicle used. I found we were replacing a commuter car every 4 years or so.
    Costs will only get worse. Insurance here is charged by the mile, some states want to charge Use fees by miles driven. When I do drive in the morning and watch as the $50k pickups pass me by (they do look great) I’m thinking the first couple hours or more of work is used just to pay for the commute.

  27. Where I live the biggest factor is car insurance. First time drivers pay minimum $5,000 a year. The Chinese also pushed up everyones’ insurance rates.

  28. Rates says:

    Public transport in America needs a ton of improvement. For people in the Bay Area for example, most people take public transportation because there’s no choice, i.e. parking is expensive in the cities and traffic is often clogged. Make public transport in America like Japan and people will know what they’ve been missing.

    Ask the Japanese to build AND operate a Shinkansen line from SF to LA and Americans will be “Elon who?”

    • sierra7 says:

      “Ask the Japanese to build AND operate a Shinkansen line from SF to LA and Americans will be “Elon who?”
      First you would have to eliminate all the politicians.

  29. Ted Freeman says:

    To add salt to an old wound, employees pay all of their commuting expenses out of post tax income. In that respect, employees are subsidizing their employers’ operations when buying fuel, insurance, repairs, paying loans, etc. Commuting to workplaces, and related indirect costs like health issues from sitting in cars for hours each week, is a massive overhead on the economy.

    • Rates says:

      This is not quite true. For people who take public transport, there’s allowance to deduct commuting expense PRE tax.

      Also certain tech companies like Linked In and I believe even the bigger ones fully subsidize Caltrain expenses, etc.

      I believe in Japan, companies also subsidize travel expenses from/to the office.

  30. Consider that roughly 40% of all workers work for multi-worksite employers (school districts, banks, municipalities, health services, retail and hospitality chains, etc.). These worksites are spread across the region to provide services where people live.
    Yet 80% to 90% of those workers do not work at a site (school, branch, store, firehall, etc.) that is near their home. Amazing but true.
    We can reduce a region’s overall single occupancy vehicle traffic by 5% to 10% by mandating that all large multi-worksite employers consider employees’ home-worksite proximity when hiring or filling transfer openings. Employers can identify and offer voluntary job swaps for peers, whereby each person has the same job, same salary and benefits, same seniority and a closer commute.
    Research indicates this should reduce HR costs and boost productivity for the employer – and of course there are myriad benefits for the employees, the economy and the environment.
    We will be pilot testing “Closer Commutes” and other transportation demand management [TDM] strategies for large employers in BC this year. It is not the answer for everyone, but will be life-altering for tens of thousands of workers and their families, and provide > $100 million annual boost to the regional economy.

  31. J.M.Keynes says:

    – One country in which people are complaining about traffic is Australia. People living in Melbourne and Sydney are caught up very heavy traffic congestion every day. And rush hour has been expanding beyond the usual rush hours more and more.

  32. Laughing Eagle says:

    About 30 years ago when I was looking for a home my colleagues decided to buy houses in the suburbs because they could get a bigger house at a lower price than the city homes. So they drove 45-60 minutes one way to work while I walked or rollerbladed (ex-hockey player) taking me 10 minutes on the blades or 40 minutes walking.
    But they did not realize what the did not pay for a house in the city they paid in cars and over 30 years their costs paid for that city house they avoided. Short term thinking over the long term of those out of sight indirect costs. Reminds me of a book I read called “The Value of Nothing”. Americans know the prices of everything and the value of nothing.

  33. Alex says:

    I love driving. Took a race driving class over four days to learn how to drive properly. There has been no invention for “freedom” as good as a personal car.

  34. R Davis says:

    Magic Mobility Wheelchairs – have a look at their range of terrain power chairs – what is not to like here ??
    Electric bikes & scooters & much more.
    Think & try before you buy.
    Poncho’s for rainy days.
    You don’t have to have a disability, only a need to get from A – B .

  35. Kreditanstalt says:

    “77% drive themselves to work”?

    This illustrates why an over-reliance on survey-generated aggregate statistics misses the forest for the trees…

    Participation rate? How many of that 77% are driving to financially-secure breadwinner jobs? How many have debt, and thus are not ‘getting ahead’ at all? How many are part-time, gig economy? How many of those jobs are organic demand-driven, non-cheap credit-dependent profit-making employment? And how many are bubble activities?

    Are living standards rising or not?

    Statistics, charts and survey data can say anything…

    • Mean Chicken says:

      “77% drive themselves to work”

      Some expert economists make the case that automation creates jobs and thus represents opportunity for future generations anticipating gainful employment opportunities.

      Thus, I urge millenials to vote “yes” for corporate dormitory development in lieu of unnecessary low income housing projects and especially, the plague of private residence sprawl.

      After all, they’ll need somewhere to live where getting to work that doesn’t involve so much waste from constructing and maintaining the current bloated infrastructure system.

  36. Mean Chicken says:

    I agree, rental is the way to go if you insist on driving a BMW.

  37. 2GeekRnot 2Geek says:


    Just an FYI, This particular article was cited this morning on KYW 1060 (AM) in Philadelphia this morning in one of the news segments. They gave the name. On the East Coast! Just thought you’d like to know.
    : )

  38. rob says:

    hmmm, In the USA, poverty and unemployment have increased during the period noted, by percentages greater than those noted in the article. This tells me Americans remain highly resistant to forfeiting their cars, and have made sacrifices in other aspects of life. One causal factor is the lack of alternatives: public transportation in the USA is woefully inadequate, and what is available is so low in standard as to be 3rd world. Perhaps, if effective alternatives were present, the shifts noted would be greater and accelerated.

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