What Is the Average Cost of Commuting in the US?

Learn how to calculate the cost of your daily trip to work

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Commuting to work can be time-consuming, not to mention it can impact your wallet. According to the most recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the average one-way, metro area commute in the U.S. takes 27.1 minutes. That means nearly an hour is spent behind the wheel or on public transportation (maybe even both) each weekday—that’s almost 260 hours per year. The cost of that commute could also range from a few dollars per day to thousands per year, depending on your mode of transportation.

Determining the cost of commuting means looking at variables such as gas and vehicle maintenance, as well as the lost value of time spent stuck in traffic or on public transit. Understanding average commute costs can offer a clearer perspective on the time and money involved. 

Average Commute Times in the U.S.

Geographically speaking, commute times can vary drastically across different states and metro areas. Major cities with the longest commute times (32 minutes or more) include the New York-Newark metro area, Atlanta metro area, and Chicago metro area. In contrast, commuters only traveled for 20 minutes or less in areas including cities of Amarillo, Texas, Flagstaff, Arizona, and Eugene, Oregon.

Commuting During COVID-19

The coronavirus pandemic could affect these average reported commute times though. According to one study, about 50% of people who were employed prior to COVID-19 were working from home by June 2020. About 35% of respondents who were commuting said they also switched to working from home. Another study found that 42% of the workforce began working full-time from home because of COVID-19, while 33% of Americans weren’t working at all by June 2020. This rise in work-from-home and remote working means average commute times and employer benefits for commuting are no longer what they once were.

It may take months or years to see commute times return to levels they were in 2019, before the pandemic.

Fewer drivers may mean shorter commute times for those on the road. On the other hand, commute times could eventually increase if more people opt to drive over taking public transportation to reduce their contact with others.

Costs of Commuting by Car

Commuting by car can be convenient, or it may be the only practical option if you don't have access to public transportation. However, there are certain tangible and intangible costs involved, including gas, car insurance, vehicle maintenance, and wear and tear. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2019, the average household spent $2,094 on gas and motor oil, while total transportation expenditures reached $10,742. That’s about $29 per day spent on transportation. While these numbers take into account money spent on transportation outside of the daily commute, it still shows how that time spent in your car or on a bus or train can add up. 

Those vehicle costs can be impacted by your car’s miles per gallon. Buying a car that gets 25 miles to the gallon as opposed to 15 miles per gallon, for instance, could save you over $800 in fuel costs per year, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.

Costs of Alternative Commuting Options

Taking public transportation, carpooling, riding a bike, or walking to work could save you money and spare your vehicle wear and tear. But there are still costs to consider, such as fares for buses, trains, or taxis, bicycle wear and tear, or shared carpooling costs.

These costs can vary greatly based on where you live and travel to work, as well as the method of transportation you choose. For example, taking the bus is likely cheaper than paying for an Uber, Lyft, or taxi service. 

In 2018, the average public transit fare was $1.60. Assuming two trips per weekday, that adds up to $832 per year. The least-expensive ride-sharing option averaged around $25 per ride in 2019, according to Statista, a market and consumer data provider. If you took two trips per weekday with a ride-sharing company, you could pay up to $13,000 per year.

In 2019, approximately 14% of employers reimbursed commuting costs or otherwise subsidized alternative transportation. If you’re not sure whether your employer offers this benefit, reach out to your human resources department. 

The Value of Your Time

According to an analysis by online real estate referral service Clever, the typical commuter spends 200 hours commuting per year. That’s about 25, eight-hour workdays per year spent getting to and from work. If you made $26 per hour, those 200 hours equal $5,200 in time spent not working.

And for those on public transportation, Clever found the average time spent commuting annually is nearly double compared to drivers. If you commute that much or more, you could repurpose those hours to get caught up on work, start a side hustle, or learn a new hobby.

Environmental Impact Costs

Commuting can also be measured in how much it costs the environment. In 2018, transportation accounted for 28% of greenhouse gas emissions in the U.S., with 59% of that being attributed to light-duty vehicles. 

The typical passenger vehicle emits 4.6 metric tons, or 10,141 pounds, of carbon dioxide per year. If you’d like to repay that debt, environmental companies like Terrapass sell personal carbon offsets for about $4.99 per 1,000 pounds. That’s about $49.90 per year if you drive the typical passenger vehicle that emits 10,141 pounds of carbon dioxide.

Making your commute more efficient—via car sharing, carpooling, public transit, or biking—could help to reduce your personal carbon footprint.

How to Calculate Your Commuting Costs

A cost of commuting calculator typically uses the following information to calculate your daily, monthly, and annual commute costs:

  • Type of transportation, like personal vehicle, public transportation, carpooling, etc.
  • One-way trip mileage
  • Average number of commuting days per week
  • Your vehicle's gas mileage
  • Gas price per gallon 
  • Monthly or annual maintenance and upkeep costs 

For example, using this calculator, the commute for someone who drives 20 miles round trip per day to work, five days a week, in a vehicle that gets 20 miles per gallon at $2.25 per gallon of gas would cost about $540 per year. With other related costs calculated in, that total could go up to $2,918 per year.

Compare different commuter options to see which one is most or least expensive. You may switch to public transportation or bicycling if it's cheaper than driving, or has less of an environmental impact. 

How to Spend Less on Your Commute

A few tips to help to make your commute less taxing on you and your wallet may include: 

  • Driving at off-peak times, or asking to work from home one or more days per week
  • Keeping your tires properly inflated, and using the right fuel type for your vehicle to increase fuel efficiency
  • Purchasing a more fuel-efficient vehicle
  • Buying discounted gas from a warehouse club
  • Starting a carpool rotation with co-workers
  • Moving closer to work, or changing jobs for a shorter commute

Some of these tips may be more challenging to execute than others, but they could yield significant savings on the average commute cost, in the long run. With a shorter commute, you may find yourself increasing not only your savings but your happiness, too.

Article Sources

  1. U.S. Census Bureau. "Average Travel Time to Work in the United States by Metro Area." Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.

  2. National Bureau of Economic Research. "NBER Working Paper Series, COVID-19 and Remote Work: An Early Look at US Data." Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.

  3. Stanford University. "Stanford Research Provides a Snapshot of a New Working-From-Home Economy." Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.

  4. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "Consumer Expenditures—2019." Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.

  5. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy. "Save Money." Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.

  6. Bureau of Transportation Statistics. "Average Passenger Fares." Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.

  7. Statista. "Average Quarterly Cost Per Ride of Ridesharing Services in the United States from 2017 to 2019." Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.

  8. SHRM. "2019 Employee Benefits," Download "Executive Summary." Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.

  9. Clever. "The True Cost of Commuting." Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.

  10. Environmental Protection Agency. "Greenhouse Gas Emissions from a Typical Passenger Vehicle." Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.

  11. Terrapass. "Personal Carbon Offsets." Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.

  12. Transportation and Parking Services. "Commuter Cost Calculator." Accessed Nov. 11, 2020.