Last year, I spent over 500 hours commuting to work. That’s almost a whole month on the road, or about 15% of my waking time. My commute is not only longer than most people’s but probably more complicated as well – I use three different modes to get to work. I drive for about 10 mins to the train station, take the commuter train for about 45 mins to the city, and walk to my office for about 15 mins. In the summer, I bike to the train station instead of drive, adding 5 mins to my total travel time (and a much needed cardio workout). Regardless of how you commute to work, it is usually a large part of our lives. Commuting is not just about getting to work; it also influences many different aspects of our lives, including our health and social relationships.
To take a closer look at how Americans commute to work, we collaborated with ApartmentList, the leading site for rentals. ApartmentList conducted a survey of 18,000 renters in Q4 of last year and shared the data with us. We combined the survey data with apartment rental prices (which ApartmentList collects from its site) and publicly available data on quality of life indicators to see if we could find interesting relationships between commute mode, price and health. Here are some of the highlights:
Not surprisingly, commuting by car dominates. This is followed by taking the bus, biking, carpooling, subway and walking. Perhaps the most interesting data point was the high percentage of renters who biked to work.
When we looked at large cities grouped by regions, we can see that cities in the Northeast and West Coast of the country were the ones least dependent on cars for commuting. Northeastern cities like New York City, Washington DC and Boston had a much larger percentage of commuters taking the bus and subway. Meanwhile,West Coast cities such as San Francisco, Portland and Sacramento had a disproportionately large number of people who walked or biked to work. The other regions of the country were more dependent on cars for commuting, especially smaller, affordable cities like Milwaukee, Wisconsin and others.
How about the relationship between commute mode and health? A lot has been written about how commuting affects your well-being. Just last week, Gizmodo did a piece on the best way to get to work, comparing different commute modes and their impact on health. The author, Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan, an avid cyclist, reviewed a lot of the current literature and came to the conclusion that riding and walking made people healthier and happier, while driving to work was bad for you, physically, mentally and socially.
To explore the angle between commuting via car and health, we ran a regression on the percentage of car commuters and obesity rates for all the cities in the survey. We found a positive relationship between obesity rates and commuting by car. In other words, cities with higher rates of car commuting also had higher rates of obesity.
Does this mean we should ditch the car or move to a place that is more bike or walk-friendly? Given what we know about the negative impacts of having to drive as a result of living far from where you work, shouldn’t we all strive to live near work? One of the most common responses to this question was echoed by the the top comment on that Gizmodo article about the best way to commute: Too bad I can’t afford to live near where I work.
Mr. dc12man has a point. My wife and I used to live in a rented one-bedroom right in the heart of downtown Toronto. I walked to work, took public transit, and did not own a car. But when we wanted a bigger place to accommodate our growing family we moved to the suburbs, about 25 miles from downtown. For the price of a small apartment in Toronto, we got a single family home in a subdivision with three bedrooms, a yard and a double-car garage. We felt like we were living the “dream,” in some ways, but we also felt like we were pushed out of the city by the high prices.
So how does price factor into how we commute? First, we looked at the top cities where people walked and biked the most. These include large cities, known for their non-car culture such as San Francisco and NYC, as well as not so obvious cities such as San Antonio and Tampa.
When we looked at the average rent for 2BR prices for these bike/walk-friendly cities, we see that for the larger urban areas, such as San Francisco ($4600), Miami ($2650) and Washington, D.C. ($2880), the rent is very high. But the encouraging finding is that there are smaller cities such as Cleveland ($610) and Indianapolis ($630) that are very affordable, and places in between such as Sacramento ($1080), San Antonio ($990) and Philly ($1000) that are moderately affordable.
When we looked at the relationships between specific modes of commute and the average rental price, we saw a negative relationship between price and the % of car commuters (p-value = 0.0005). In other words, places where people tend to drive more also tend to be lower in rental prices.
For other modes, we found a positive relationship between biking/walking rates and rental prices (although not as statistically significant). The higher the biking/walking rate, the higher the prices for rentals were. When we compared the biking/walking rates with obesity rates, the relationship was flipped – the higher the biking/walking rate, the lower the rate of obesity. The infographic below summarizes all the different relationships.
The trade-offs of living near work and being able to bike or walk to work appears to be price. Unfortunately, where rent prices are concerned, you’re paying for convenience. But should the cost of affordable rent be your well-being?
If you want to switch up your commute but can’t afford city-center housing prices, a compromise might be your best option. Mixing commute modes, such as driving to a station and then taking the bus or train to work, will cut down on the amount of stressful driving you have to do while also encouraging you to walk to and from work to catch the bus or train. What’smore, without needing to focus on driving, your time spent on the bus or train can still be productive. I value my time on the train because I am able to declutter my inbox and catch up on the news.
If you are concerned that a mixed-mode commute will take too much time out of your day, though, then you could try incorporating a little extra activity by parking a bit further from work. If nothing else, when you’re at work, take the stairs!
Here is an infographic of the stats found in this article:
Embed this infographic on your website:
<a href="https://infograph.venngage.com/p/51201/commuter-survey-2014"><img class="alignnone wp-image-2540 size-full" src="https://venngage.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/commuter-infographic.png" alt="Commuters in the USA" width="1632" height="5676" /></a>