- In 2021, the average one-way commute time was at its lowest in ten years, with 25.6 minutes, a 2 minute drop from pre-pandemic levels.
- The longest commute time since 2006 was recorded in 2019, with an average travel time of 27.6 minutes.
- Two-thirds of commuters leave for work between 6-10 AM, with the rush half-hour being between 7-7:29 AM, when 18 million Americans leave for work.
- Half of the largest 50 US cities follow the national pattern and have the busiest timeslot between 7-7:29 AM.
- For most of the largest cities in the US, leaving for work sooner or immediately after the busiest timeslot can save commuters hours per year in travel time. For New Yorkers, choosing to leave during the half-hour interval after the busiest one (8-8:29 AM) can save them around 30 hours per year.
Remote work has provided employees with many advantages in the past two years since it became the new norm. Flexible work schedules, more family time and no commute time are some of the most obvious benefits of working remotely. However, as companies and employees are pushing for a partial return to the office as part of a hybrid work model, the issue of commute time is once again a hot topic of discussion. With most employees leaving for work between 6 and 10 AM, morning rush hour covers a rather large time interval. So, what is the best time to leave for work?
To figure it out, we looked at the most recent data from the US Census Bureau covering the total number of commuters, the time of departure for work and the aggregate time of travel. Here are some of the main highlights from our analysis.
Average Commute Time at its Lowest in Ten Years
Remote work has caused major changes in terms of commute time to work. In 2019, 8.9 million people worked remotely which reflected in an average time of travel to work of 27.6 minutes, as 94% of the US workforce was commuting.
In 2021, with 27.6 million people working remotely and approximately 18.6 million fewer commuters, the total travel time has dropped to 25.6 minutes. This 2-minute decrease in travel time amounts to about 8.5 hours in commute time saved per year.
Two-Thirds of Americans Leave for Work Between 6-10 AM
Over 126 million workers aged 16 and over are commuting to work each morning. Our analysis of the Census Bureau data shows that, nationally, 67% of them leave for work between 6 AM and 10 AM. The busiest timeslot for morning commute is between 7-7:29AM, when over 18 million leave for work, or about 14% of total commuters.
With this being the busiest time slot, there are high chances of commuters experiencing a longer travel time than the national average of 25.6 minutes.
The next busiest time slots are 7:30-7:59 AM and 8-8:29 AM, with 12% (over 14 million) and 11% (over 14 million), respectively, of commuters leaving for work during that time.
The same pattern can be observed across the top 50 largest US cities. 25 cities follow the same commuter distribution pattern, where most people leave to work between 7-7:29AM.
The 7-7:29 AM and 8-8:29 AM Timeslots Are Busiest in California and Texas
When looking at the 4 largest cities in California, three experience peak time between 8-8:29 AM including Los Angeles, San Jose and San Francisco. Commuters leaving in the following time interval can save 2.9, 0.4 and 4.3 minutes, respectively, in each city. This means 12.1, 1.7 and 17.9 hours less spent on the road in a year. The busiest timeslot for San Diego is 7-7:29 AM, allowing early risers to save 1 minute, or 4.2 hours per year, if they leave for work between 7:30-7:59 AM.
In Texas, most commuters rush to work between 7-7:29 AM in Houston, San Antonio and Fort Worth. Choosing to leave between 7:30-7:59 AM can save them 3.9, 3.6 and 3.7 minutes, respectively, or 16.3, 15 and 15.4 hours per year. For Dallas and Austin commuters, leaving between 8:30-8:59 AM as opposed to the peak time between 8-8:29 AM can save them 5.3 and 7.6 minutes, respectively. This means a total of 22.1 and 31.7 hours saved per year.
Save Time by Delaying or Advancing the Departure Time by Half an Hour
Everyone knows the "early bird gets the worm" proverb. However, when it comes to commuting, the early bird might have to spend more time getting to work than those leaving for work only half an hour later.
Our analysis shows that delaying or advancing the time of departure to work by just half an hour can save significant time across the largest cities in the US.
In New York morning rush hour can get very hectic and, though the city is notoriously busy all day long, our analysis shows that most commuters leave for work between 8:00 and 8:29 AM – over 460,000 workers each day, or 16% of all commuters. However, in the following interval, 8:30-8:59 AM, the number of commuters leaving for work drops to less than 200,000, or about 7% of all workers.
Commuters in Austin, TX, New York, NY and Washington, D.C. can save the most amount of time when choosing to leave for work in the 8:30-8:59 AM time interval, as opposed to the busiest timeslot between 8-8:29 AM. Leaving in the half-hour interval starting at 8:30 AM, commuters can save 31.4, 29.6 and 27.6 hours per year, respectively.
On the other hand, for commuters in Columbus, OH, Phoenix, AZ, San Diego, CA and San Jose, CA, leaving in the half-hour interval before or after the busiest timeslot doesn't make much of a difference as far as saving time goes. They only save 8.4, 6.8, 4.1 and 1.8 hours on average per year, respectively, by avoiding the busiest timeslot.
Best Time to Leave for Work in New York and its Boroughs
With an average travel time to work of 31.5 minutes, New Yorkers leaving for work between 8:30 and 8:59 AM have a shorter commute time than those leaving during the previous interval (38.6 minutes). This results in a difference of 7.1 minutes daily, or close to 30 hours of time saved per year.
When looking at the individual boroughs in New York City, choosing the best interval to leave for work varies, as rush “half-hours” are different for each of the 5 boroughs.
For Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, the busiest time interval is 7-7:29 AM. Leaving for work in the following interval results in a shorter average travel time by 8.4, 0.4 and 5.4 minutes, respectively. This translates into 35, 1.7 and 22.5 less hours spent commuting in a year.
Brooklyn and Manhattan are busiest between 8-8:29 AM. Commuters choosing to leave for work half an hour later, between 8:30-8:59 AM, could save 8.1 minutes each day, or 34 hours per year if leaving from Brooklyn and 4.4 minutes daily or 18 hours per year if leaving from Manhattan.
Rush hour is generally a great way to get an idea of when to avoid a certain time interval for leaving for work. However, the interval is not always specific enough and leaving a half hour earlier or later can make a big difference in how much time commuters spend on the road. Remote work has positively impacted the average commute time across the nation, but hybrid work may slightly push it up, unless employees consider alternative times to leave for the office. Fortunately, flexible work arrangements should provide the freedom of choosing when and on what days employees want to work from the office, which will allow for efficient commuting and a successful adoption of a hybrid work model.
- For this analysis, we looked at 2021 data from the US Census Bureau, specifically: the working population, time of departure to work, mean travel time to work (minutes) and aggregate travel time to work (minutes).
- The analysis includes the top 50 largest US cities by population.
- The term commuters refers to workers 16 and over who do not work at home.
- Time of departure to work and mean travel time to work are calculated for all means of transportation.
- Travel time to work refers to the total number of minutes that it usually takes a worker to get from home to work during the reference week.
- For the purpose of this analysis, travel time to work refers only to one-way travel.
- To determine the mean travel time per timeslot, we divided the aggregate travel time to work by the number of workers leaving home to go to work during that specific timeslot.
- To determine the time saved when commuting in a year, we estimated an average number of 250 working days in a year.
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