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Long commutes? Cities become obsolete?

If you had the option to go into the office two or three days a week (vs five) would you consider moving to the suburbs? Lower crime, more open space, less of Chicago politics? BAM.


That's why more people are considering the move and are willing to spend a little more time commuting a few days per week.


America’s Commute to Work Is Getting Longer and Longer

Drives to the office that take over an hour are becoming more common—and even more palatable

By Anne Marie Chaker, WSJ

June 3, 2024 9:00 pm ET


The American worker is making peace with a longer ride.


Big shifts in the way people live and work are making commutes of over an hour into the office more common—and even more palatable. Rising housing costs have prompted many to move farther away from city centers, while the staying power of hybrid work means they don’t have to drive into work every day.


The share of super commutes—those 75 miles or longer—have grown the most and are up by nearly a third since 2020, according to new research from Stanford University.


Craig Allender’s family of four felt they had outgrown their three-bedroom home in Novato, Calif., and wanted to upgrade. They found a five-bedroom one 30 miles north in Sonoma County where lower housing costs put a 3,000-square-foot house in reach.


Allender says he can tolerate his new 63-mile drive to work since he only has to go in three times a week.


“If I had to be in the office five days a week, there’s no way,” says the managing director of an engineering company in Oakland.


A recent analysis of satellite-navigation data for the 10 largest cities in the U.S. shows he’s not alone in making that calculus.


Examining two million morning commutes over the same four-month period in 2023-24 and 2019-20, Stanford University economists Nick Bloom and Alex Finan found the number of longer drives—though still a fraction of total trips—rose the most over the four years: As a share of all morning commutes, those between 50 and 74 miles rose 18%, while those 75 miles and up rose 32%. Commutes less than 35 miles, which were the majority of all commutes, declined, according to their analysis of data from transportation research firm INRIX.


Bloom says the data points to a shift away from living close to workplaces. He attributes the widespread adoption of hybrid work—allowing employees to do their jobs from home on certain days—as the key driver.


A two-hour long car ride, performed twice a day, would be punishing as a regular commute. The difference now, he adds, is that many of these commuters are doing it once or twice a week.


The super-commute compromise

Among the cities with the biggest increases in commutes of more than 75 miles each way were Washington, D.C., New York City, Phoenix and Dallas, according to the Stanford study.


But it is happening all over the country. Heather Adams, who commutes most days from her home in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to her office in Moline, Ill., says she looks forward to listening to audio books for the 75-minute drive each way.


“It is very calming after work to have someone read to you,” says Adams, a product engineer for a large agricultural company.



Research from Gusto, a payroll and benefits software company, shows that younger employees and high earners—defined as those who make over $250,000—are choosing to live farther away from their offices.


The average distance to work rose to 27 miles at the end of 2023 from 10 miles in 2019, according to Gusto’s study of 52,000 employees at more than 6,800 businesses. Among employees in their late 30s, that distance nearly tripled to 29 miles.


“They’re the ones making life transitions and deciding where to live and that can be farther out,” says Liz Wilke, Gusto’s principal economist. Workers in the 35-to-39 age group have also reached a career stage where they have more say in how their work gets done, she adds.


The movement away from urban centers has progressed over decades, starting with a postwar economy that drove suburbanization. It is accelerated more recently with technological advances that made work-from-home possible.


“Over time, jobs have steadily dispersed all over metro regions, including suburbs” says Bob Pishue, transportation analyst at INRIX.


Between 2021 and 2023, the 56 major metro areas in the U.S. lost a net of 1.9 million people who moved elsewhere, according to an analysis by Wendell Cox, principal of Demographia, a public-policy firm in St. Louis.


Pricey parking

Stephanie Shui, 37, says she and her husband traded New York City life for a house with a pool in Connecticut—and a 50-mile commute to Manhattan that is three hours round-trip. It is grueling, she says, even though she is only in the office three days a week.


On Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, Shui, a corporate strategy executive, tries to leave the office by 4 p.m. It takes 90 minutes or more to get back to New Canaan to relieve the nanny at 6 p.m. She will spend an hour or two later in the evening catching up on calls and emails.


Shui, a mother of two small children, says she doesn’t regret their decision to move three years ago. Yet the race against the clock can be stressful.


“I tell myself, ‘I should have remembered how awful it is to sit in traffic on the West Side Highway for two hours,’” she says, not to mention $20 in tolls plus the $54 a day it can cost to park.


Some employers now offer a vanpool to ferry workers in from increasingly long distances.


Plastics-manufacturing company Inteplast Group struck a deal with Enterprise, the car rental company, two years ago for a van-commuting service. It helped retain employees at its Texas manufacturing plants that other companies were trying to lure away with work-from-home arrangements.


The company’s Commute With Enterprise program charges workers $20 every two weeks to be part of a vanpool that picks them up between 70 and 110 miles away and takes them to the plants.


Plant manager Daniel Montgomery says that since he started taking the van nine months ago, he has saved $250 a month in gas and spends the time listening to the news and conversing with five other employees in his vanpool. Before, Montgomery drove the 70 miles to and from work for more than two decades.


“Driving 140 miles a day was really taxing,” he says.


Write to Anne Marie Chaker at Anne-Marie.Chaker@wsj.com

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