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Commuters Driving Three-Plus Hours Daily Rises Dramatically

The 209 is the undisputed leader when it comes to the growth of “super commuters”.

They’re the ones chasing paychecks to support their families by driving 90 minutes or more in one direction to reach a job.

That’s three hours-plus a day.

The Bay Area for years has been part of the top three regions in the country for super commutes. The others are Los Angeles and New York.

But it wasn’t until the last decade that the metro areas of Stockton (including Manteca, Lathrop, Ripon, Tracy, and Mountain House) and Modesto (including Ceres and Turlock) broke away from the pack of other outer suburbs of major cities to become the undisputed king of the road when it comes to super commuter growth.

Nowhere in the nation are there metro areas with a higher percentage of super commuters in the workforce than Stockton-Modesto.

Those driving three-plus hours a day to and from work now represent 11.7 percent of the workforce in the Stockton metro area and 9.6 percent in the Modesto metro area.

The next closest are Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown in New York at 8.5 percent, Bridgeport-Stamford-Norwalk in Connecticut at 7.5 percent and Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario in California at 7.4 percent. After that metro areas drop below five percent in terms of how much of the workforce are super commuters.

Five of the 10 top super commuter metro areas are in California. Four of those are part of the NorCal metroplex anchored by San Francisco. The other two include Santa Rosa-Petaluma at 4.3 percent and San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara at 3.8 percent.

And nowhere has the growth in the percentage of super commuters been greater than in the Northern San Joaquin Valley. Since 2010 there has been a 133 percent jump in super commuters in the Stockton metro area and a 97 percent jump in the Modesto area. The third spot on the national list drops all the way down to a 23 percent growth for super commuters in the Poughkeepsie-Newburgh-Middletown metro area.

Not surprisingly the No. 1 and No. 3 metro areas in the nation when it comes to the increase in the ranks of super commuters were Stockton at 25 percent and Modesto at 20 percent.

San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara was No. 2 at 23 percent.

The data is gleaned from the Census Bureau’s American Community Survey.

Economists for the firm Apartment List have drawn a connection between the increase in super commuters and the increase in rents.

Since the start of the pandemic two years ago, Apartment List indicated data shows rents have increased the highest where super commuting is prevalent.

That’s because super commutes are driven by urban centers not having adequate housing that is affordable for much of its workforce. It is compounded in the Bay Area where job generation has exceeded the ability of the market to add enough homes to house workers.

As a result San Joaquin County has seen rents rise 19 percent with the biggest jumps being in Manteca and Tracy.

The ranks of super commuters include those who aren’t just looking for a house but are seeking apartments to rent.

Super commuters are defined by time on the road as opposed to minutes.

Data shows 60 percent of all Bay Area commuters live 30 to 90 miles from their job sites.

While remote work has the potential to eliminate some commutes, the economists note that surveys show half of those who expect to have a permanent remote option say that their employer is planning for a hybrid arrangement, meaning that they will still be commuting part-time. And remote workers were twice as likely as on-site workers to say they were planning an upcoming move to more affordable housing.

The Apartment List study notes, “Millions of American workers now spend three hours or more on their daily commutes, and these super commutes are only growing more common. This has significant negative repercussions not just for the quality of life of these workers, but for the environment at large. While remote work is likely to eliminate some of these commutes, it could also give rise to a new group of part-time super commuters, as hybrid arrangements lead to expanding commuting zones.

“Importantly, super commuting is largely borne of necessity in the nation’s most expensive housing markets, which have been rapidly adding jobs but severely underbuilding new housing for decades. Few would likely choose to super commute if they could afford to live in a more convenient location. With massive infrastructure investments currently top of mind for policymakers, the rapid expansion of super commuting highlights the need to rethink America’s urban areas in a way that prioritizes plentiful new housing developed around robust public transit.

“Assuming that workers are more tolerant of long commutes if they are less frequent, this could imply that widespread adoption of hybrid remote work arrangements could lead to heightened demand in this outer zone. This could result in a new group of “part-time super commuters,” with the potential for commuting zones to expand even further.”