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The True Cost Of Commuting In The United States [Explained]

Learn about the cost of commuting and how your daily driving impacts not only the environment, but also your bottom line.

Key Takeaways

  • The average American spends $108,727 on commuting costs.
  • Driving to work equals 173,203 miles over a career.
  • Commuting takes up 408 days of an American’s life.
  • Public transport, biking, and walking are cheaper alternatives to consider.

Earlier this year, we published a report revealing the average American will spend roughly 408 days of their life commuting. That’s a lot of time to spend stuck in traffic, going to and from a job most people hate.

But that got us thinking — time is far from the only major expense of commuting.

For those who actually drive to work, rather than taking public transportation or carpooling, just how much does commuting cost in dollars and cents over the course of a career?

And how many miles will we drive back and forth to work during our working lives?

We did the math for nearly 100 major US cities, and found the average American will spend $108,727 on gas and vehicle maintenance costs associated with commuting, while driving 173,203 miles to and from work in their lifetime.

That’s enough miles to drive around the world 7 times!

Using the interactive map below, you can see the financial toll and total mileage you can expect to accumulate commuting in the city where you live.

The Cost of Commuting Map


So, how did we calculate the financial cost and total miles driven commuting in your life in each city?

For the purposes of this study, we assumed the average person starts full-time work at 18 (some people start earlier, others a bit later).

We also know the average retirement age is 63 in the United States.

That works out to a total of 45 years working a full-time job.

From there, we operated based on the assumption most people work about 250 days per year, accounting for 2 weeks yearly vacation and time off.

That adds up to a whopping 11,250 days of working/commuting over a career.

From here, we used data from the US Census Bureau on average daily roundtrip commute distances as well as data from AAA on the total cost per mile of operating a vehicle (60.8 cents per mile for the average sedan when gas, insurance, and maintenance costs are considered).

How to Use the Map

The above map is interactive and easy to use.

If you want to see commute times in your area, simply click the pin icon on the upper-left corner of the map, and it will zoom into your city (assuming you aren’t using a VPN).

You can also click the magnifying glass to search by city name if you don’t want to use your IP location.

From there, simply click on the nearest dot on the map and you’ll see data on that area’s average daily round-trip commute time in minutes as well as the total number of days you can expect to spend commuting over your career.

One note for mobile users — you may find the map tool displays better if you flip your device to display horizontally.

So, are you rethinking your commute yet?

Article Not foundCredit for creation of the map goes to: Leaflet | qgis2web Map tiles by Stamen Design
under CC BY 3.0. Data by OpenStreetMap, under ODbL.

Overview of Commuting in the U.S.

What does commuting in the United States look like? To give you an idea, here’s a brief overview.

  • According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Americans spent 25 minutes per day traveling to work in 2021. That’s nearly an hour of sitting in a car if you add the return trip!
  • Out of all the commuters, 7.7% of workers had average travel times of 60 minutes or more. This means they spent over two hours of their day on the commute.
  • People usually travel up to 41 miles a day to and from their offices. The cost of traveling this distance depends on your car’s miles per gallon capacity.
  • On average, the monthly cost of commuting in the U.S. is $705. That totals to $8,466 per year lost for traveling to the workplace!
  • Geography and urban planning affect the travel time of American workers. In particular, those in Detroit, Michigan, and New York can spend upwards of $10,000 per year on commuting.
  • Studies show that longer commuting times cause physical health damage. On top of this, it lowers work and life satisfaction, leading to poorer mental health.

Financial Costs of Commuting

The U.S. Census Bureau says that 67.8% of Americans drive alone to and from work. So how much does a single commuter spend? It may be more than you think!

Here’s a breakdown of the fares.

  • Fuel Costs: Gas bills affect your yearly cost of commuting. As of December 2023, you can spend $2.74 to $4.81 per gallon of gas.
  • Vehicle Maintenance Costs: According to the American Automobile Association, the annual cost of car ownership in 2023 is $12,182. This includes the cost of maintenance, licenses, and insurance.
  • Parking Fees: Don’t forget you have to spend money on parking! Studies show that Americans pay an average of $3,000 per year for parking.

Alternative Modes of Transportation

There’s no doubt driving to work is pricey. The good news is you can cut back on the financial cost of commuting when you take other modes of transportation.

Here are cheaper ways to get to work.

  • Public Transportation: Public transportation lets you avoid the cost of maintenance and parking. The Bureau of Labor and Statistics says Americans spent an average of $683 on public transportation in 2021.
  • Biking: You can buy an electric bike for only $2,000 to $3,000. Charging it costs you 0.002 cents per mile, and insurance is less than $100 each year.
  • Walking: If you’re lucky enough to live near work, walking will help you avoid the costliest commutes! Walking is free, and it’s beneficial to your health.

Time Costs and Its Implications

Did you know the average commute time in America is 239 hours annually? This means you spend ten days each year getting to work. That’s more than enough time for a vacation!

In short, money isn’t the only cost of the commute. You must consider the extra time you sacrifice on travel, as the minutes per day add up.

So what is the cost of commuting time-wise?

According to Statista, the average hourly wage in the United States is $11.05 in 2023. If you multiply it by the number of hours people spend commuting, it amounts to $2640 per year.

Not only that, the real cost of the long travel time is your work-life balance. Lengthy commute times affect your daily schedule. It reduces your leisure time and may even increase your stress levels.

Time Costs of Alternative Modes of Transportation

It’s worth noting that while public transportation saves you money, it has a downside. The U.S. Census Bureau found that alternative modes of transportation lengthen average travel times!

For instance, those who ride the bus take 46.6 minutes to get to work. The 57% of workers who leave their house early also have the longest travel time.

Since long commutes affect your mental health, you should decide if the time investment is worth it.

Impact on Health and Well-Being

How does your average commute time impact your well-being?

One Chinese study shows that for ten minutes on your commute, your probability of depression increases by 1.1%.

Mental health is the main issue when it comes to lengthy commute times. This is because commuting adds to fatigue, and workers experience daily pressure to get to the office on time.

What’s more, the commute limits your physical activity. There’s a tendency for obesity in those who take 30 minutes or more to travel to work. Your risk of diabetes, heart disease, and stroke heightens!

People who work from home are not safe either.

Research shows that the lowered social interaction in remote workers leads to depression, lack of sleep, and anxiety.

Addressing the Impact of Commuting on Health

Having a shorter commute gives you extra time to rest before and after work. It also gives you more time to finish your daily tasks.

For this reason, companies should come up with ways to get employees to work as stress-free as possible.  Businesses must consider the financial costs of commuting and increase the hourly wage if necessary.

Commuting and Environmental Impact

Commuting has varying levels of impact on the environment depending on the mode of transportation. Still, most contribute to poor air quality, noise pollution, and climate change.

Reducing the impact of commuting has many benefits.

Choosing eco-friendly transportation lessens traffic congestion and prevents tons of gas from burning. You may also save on the cost of driving!

To help you choose which vehicle to take, below is a summary of the environmental impact of different commuting options.

  • Driving: A single commuter can release five tons of carbon dioxide each year. Since most Americans drive alone to work, this commute method is the largest source of carbon emissions.
  • Taking the Bus or Train: Taking public transportation releases 45% less carbon dioxide than driving alone.
  • Biking: Riding a bike to work lessens your carbon footprint by 67% compared to driving. It doesn’t release harmful gasses, and it produces less noise.

The Cost of Commuting Post-COVID-19

Many of us know how businesses are now asking workers to report to the office. However, because the price of fuel increased, the cost of commuting post-pandemic is higher!

According to Fortune, the average American worker spends $2,000 more on commuting now that the pandemic has ended. This price is 31% more than the financial costs before COVID.

On top of that, the average time to travel to work is 39 hours or 20% longer than before.

In total, you spend 19% of your salary on transportation costs to the office. No wonder employees don’t want to shift away from remote work!

How COVID-19 Altered Commuting Patterns and Costs

Many factors played a role in the change in commuting patterns today.

During the pandemic, a war broke out in Ukraine, and the US saw a decline in oil production. This hiked the cost of gas up, affecting the commute cost.

Remote workers who moved out of big cities mid-pandemic now have to drive to work. The added distance means getting to the office now takes longer than before.

The travel time is so extensive that over 40% of employees use the commute to finish tasks from their jobs!

Alternatives and Cost-Saving Strategies

How do you save extra cash from commuting costs? The easiest way is to explore alternative modes of transportation.

Here are some of the best cost-saving strategies that may help you!

  • Carpooling: Carpooling is when you share a ride with at least one more passenger. It’s cost-effective and reduces the number of vehicles on the road.
  • Telecommuting: Telecommuting is when you accomplish work tasks over the Internet. The advantage of this is that remote workers don’t have to worry about the price of fuel or long commute hours.
  • Getting a Fuel-Efficient Vehicle: E-bikes, scooters, and electric cars allow you to avoid gas costs. Charging an EV costs $10 to $30 on the road, and less at home!
  • Joining Vanpool Services: Some workplaces offer free rides to employees. It’s a good idea to avail of vanpool services on your business days.
  • Taking Public Transport: Public transport gives the average commuter an affordable base rate to work with. Households can save up to $13,000 per year by taking public transportation!

Case Studies: Commuting Costs in Major U.S. Cities

Did you know the cost of commuting may change depending on your state?

Cities tend to have some of the highest commuting costs and longest traveling times. Moreover, geography and urban planning have significant impacts on worker commute hours.

Buffalo, New York is one of the best cities for commuters. Residents only spend 15% of their salary on the commute, which is less than other areas.

In terms of travel time, San Jose, New Orleans, and Portland offer the shortest commutes. New Orleans and Buffalo have the lowest fuel costs as well.

Meanwhile, Detroit and Atlanta have the worst traffic and public transportation costs. The average price of the commute in these cities is over $12,800 per year!

Some of the worst cities for commuters include New York City, Los Angeles, Chicago, and San Francisco. In these areas, residents spend at least 22% of their salaries traveling to work.

Frequently Asked Questions

Here are frequently asked questions about annual commuting costs.

How Much Money Do You Spend Commuting?

The amount of money you spend commuting depends on the average gas price, geography, and mode of transportation.

In general, workers who drive alone to work spend 19% of their salary on the commute. This amounts to $8,466 per year.

The price goes down as you explore alternative ways, such as public transportation and walking!

What Is the Cheapest Way to Commute?

According to Medium, some of the cheapest ways to commute are buses, trains, and carpools. Ride-sharing apps, electric scooters, and shuttle services lower your annual commute cost.

Still, walking costs you nothing, and the time you spend may be worth it since you get much-needed exercise!

Wrapping Up

Commuting to work has more costs than we realize. We spend much of our time and money getting to work. It takes a toll on our health and our savings.

Because of this, it’s important to consider the cost of commuting whenever you apply to a workplace. For those who feel they’re spending too much on driving to work, it’s time to explore the alternative options.

So, what do you think about the excessive cost of commuting? Let us know in the comments below!

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