Commute times have continued to increase, with the average Bay Area commute taking 31 minutes in 2018.
Across all modes, the average Bay Area commute takes longer than ever before and now lasts over 32 minutes door-to-door. Increasing congestion and longer-distance commutes to job centers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley have contributed to this trend. Importantly, how someone chooses to get to work affects their commuting time. Commuters that drive alone spent 30 minutes getting to work, while those taking public transit spent nearly twice as long, at 51 minutes.
Longer transit commute times are not surprising considering nearly two-thirds of transit commuters work in San Francisco. Crowding on Muni and longer trip distances for on BART and Caltrain for workers residing outside of San Francisco make it difficult to get to work under 30 minutes. This results in above-average travel times for transit users. Since 2008, the share of transit commutes longer than an hour each way has increased by 20 percent.
Historical Trend for Commute Time
While the majority of Bay Area residents have reasonable commute times, 15 percent have extreme commutes – lasting more than one hour each way.
While more than half of workers across the region have an average commute of under 30 minutes, commuting times vary widely based on where people live and work, and how they travel. Across the region, 15 percent of all commutes lasted longer than an hour in 2018 – an increase of 5 percent since 2008. Contra Costa County residents lead the pack with nearly one in five commuters traveling over one hour each way, though Alameda and Solano counties are also home to sizeable shares of extreme commuters.
Commute Time Distribution by County (2018)
Commuters living in Contra Costa County spend significantly more time getting to work than residents of other counties.
The five cities with the longest average commute time in 2018 – Antioch, Brentwood, Pittsburg, Hercules, and Oakley – are all located in Contra Costa County. Residents of these cities each took an average of 40 minutes or more to get to work, with transit commutes stretching to well over an hour each way. Commute time trends in these communities illustrate the impact of the regional jobs-housing imbalance, with many residents commuting to distant job centers in San Francisco and Silicon Valley.
With commute times averaging less than 22 minutes, residents of cities in Napa and Sonoma counties – including Calistoga, St. Helena, Napa, Healdsburg and Santa Rosa – have the fastest commutes in the region, influenced in part by shorter commute distances and less pervasive congestion. These cities are joined by several jobs-rich communities in Silicon Valley such as Mountain View, Palo Alto, Santa Clara, Menlo Park and Los Altos where residents spend under 23 minutes getting to work each day.
Contra Costa County residents have the longest average commutes in the Bay Area at 37 minutes
Sonoma County residents have the shortest average commutes in the region at just 24 minutes
Commute Time for Cities and Neighborhoods (2018)
When it comes to average commute time, the Bay Area falls in the middle of the pack among major metro areas.
The nation’s major metros all have similar commute times, ranging from 27 to 36 minutes. In 2010, the Bay Area ranked 2nd for fastest commutes, but since then the region has seen the largest increase in commute time among major metros, falling to 7th place in 2018. Enduring traffic congestion, a relatively high transit mode share, and growing distances for auto and transit commuters alike have all fueled the Bay Area’s increase in commute time in comparison to our major U.S. metro area peers.
Dallas and Houston have the quickest commute times, while commuters in New York and Washington, D.C. spend the most time getting to work. In New York, the high percentage of commuters on public transit increases the overall commute time to more than 53 minutes each day. In Washington, D.C., transit commutes are among the fastest, but solo drivers and carpoolers have the longest commute times of all metro areas.
Metro Comparison for Commute Time (2018)
Sources & Methodology
For the decennial Census datasets, breakdown of commute times was unavailable by mode; only overall data could be provided on a historical basis. For the American Community Survey datasets, 1-year rolling average data was used for all metros, region, and county geographic levels, while 5-year rolling average data was used for cities and tracts. This is due to the fact that more localized data is not included in the 1-year dataset across all Bay Area cities. Similarly, modal data is not available for every Bay Area city or census tract, even when the 5-year data is used for those localized geographies. Regional commute times were calculated by summing aggregate county travel times and dividing by the relevant population; similarly, modal commute times were calculated using aggregate times and dividing by the number of communities choosing that mode for the given geography. Census tract data is not available for tracts with insufficient numbers of residents. The metropolitan area comparison was performed for the nine-county San Francisco Bay Area in addition to the primary MSAs for the nine other major metropolitan areas.
U.S. Census Bureau: Decennial Census (1980-2000) via MTC/ABAG Bay Area Census
U.S. Census Bureau: American Community Survey
Table B08013 (2006-2018; by place of residence)
Table C08136 (2006-2018; by place of residence)
Table B08301 (2006-2018; by place of residence)
Table B08303 (2006-2018; by place of residence)
Table B08536 (2018 only; by place of employment)
Table B08601 (2018 only; by place of employment)