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SF driving up commute times in Northern California

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Stockton and Modesto commuters choked with 90-minute commutes

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San Francisco has some of the worst commutes in the entire country, but nearby cities like Stockton and Modesto have it even worse, with residents fighting each day to reach jobs closer to the city.

That’s the conclusion that rental site ApartmentList drew when it examined census data from 2005 through 2016 to find the U.S. cities with the highest percentage of “super commuters”—i.e., those unfortunate souls who spend 90 minutes or more traveling to and from work each day.

Pew Trusts reported in 2017 that depressingly long commutes have become more common almost everywhere in the U.S., born of “skyrocketing housing costs and a reluctance to move, born of memories of the 2008 financial crisis.”

ApartmentList researcher Sydney Bennet found that the census fingers California as the locus of the problem, with five of the top ten “super commuting” cities residing in the Golden State. Some other findings:

  • San Francisco came in sixth place for onerous commutes nationwide. According to Bennet, 4.8 percent of SF commuters (not residents—the study excludes those who do not work or do not commute to work) travel 90 minutes or more most days, about 104,480 people in all. Those scratching their heads over how 4.8 percent of San Francisco workers adds up to more than 104,000 people should remember that when talking census figures, “San Francisco” often means the larger SF-Oakland-Hayward area.
  • It’s even worse for outlying Northern California cities. The absolute worst commutes in America begin in Stockton, where 10 percent of the workforce (28,441 people) travel 90 minutes or more. Nearby Modesto has it almost as bad in second place with 7.3 percent, or 15,335 workers.
Photo by Aaron Kohr/Shutterstock
  • And it’s probably SF’s fault. While the data does not tell us where all of these people are commuting, a reasonable hypothesis would be that many are traveling to major job centers in or near the Bay Area and have the rotten luck of living just close enough to be able to commute but far enough away for it to be overly burdensome. “The metros with the largest share of super commuters are a mix of large metros with strong economies and bad traffic,” notes Bennet, pointing out that monstrous commutes converged on LA and New York City as well.
  • The problem is only getting worse: “The share of super commuters in the San Francisco metro more than doubled from 2.3 percent in 2005 to 4.8 percent in 2016,” claims Bennet. While this is still not that many people in the grand scheme of things, the increase nationwide during that same period was only 0.4 percent.

Although so-called “super commuters” are unfortunate outliers, they’re also a symptom of a larger problem, as the census records increased median commute times many years running. For more information, check out the American Community Survey data for 2016 in full.