Americans’ Commutes are Better in the North and Midwest Than South and West, Study Finds

Seamus Roddy's Photo
By Seamus Roddy Updated October 27, 2023


Americans spend hundreds of hours and thousands of dollars per year to wake up early and sit in traffic. That’s the truth, as the average American is forced to spend an average of 234 hours and $8,189 commuting yearly.

Those statistics come from a study from Clever Real Estate, which found that while commuting is a nationwide drag, some parts of the country enjoy better – and worse – commutes compared to the norm.

The study considered hours lost to traffic, the percentage of workers who work remotely, public transit availability, the time it takes to get to work, fuel and maintenance costs, and the condition of local roads, among other factors. Overall, the study found that the worst commuting cities in America are largely in the South and West – with less onerous commutes to be found in the North and Midwest.

Six of the 10 Worst American Commuting Cities Are in the South and West

Where bad commutes are concerned, the southern and western regions of the country have the unfortunate designation of being traffic-choked time sucks.

Of the 10 worst cities for American commuters, six are in Texas, Georgia, California, or Florida. Both Texas and California have two cities that are miserable for commuters: Houston and Dallas for Texas, and Los Angeles and Riverside for California. Also among the worst commuting cities in the country are sun-splashed Atlanta and Miami.

Living in one of the worst American cities for commuters has real costs for residents. Commuters in the bottom 10 cities spend, on average, 26% more of their income on commutes than the average U.S. commuter. Commuters in the bottom 10 cities also spend 17% more than the average American on fuel and 73% more on their insurance premiums.

Just consider some of the lowlights of the bottom 10 commuting cities. In Los Angeles, a commuter will lose an average of 95 hours to traffic, nearly double the national average of 51 hours. In Dallas, fuel costs run $978 – $215 more than the national average. In Miami, the average insurance premium clocks in at $3,938 – more than double the national average of $1,759.

In some of the cities ranked among the U.S.’s worst to commute, the method of transportation commuters choose can radically impact their experience. For example, New York is ranked the ninth worst commuting city, in large part because its residents lose 117 annual hours to traffic – the second-worst mark in the country. On the other hand, New York has the best public transit score in the country, with a glittering 89 out of 100.

Houston’s High Commuting Costs and Poor Roads Make it the Worst Place in America to Commute

According to Clever’s study, there’s no worse place to be an American commuter than Houston.

Texas may be known for energy production, but the average worker in Houston spends $933 per year on fuel – 22% more than the American average. After breaking the bank to fill up their tanks, Houstonians don’t have smooth driving ahead, as major roads in Houston are 53% more likely to be in poor condition than those in a typical American city.

Perhaps most unfortunate of all is that despite high property values, most people in Houston don’t have good options to avoid high fuel costs and crumbling roads when they commute. The study found Houston to have a poor public transit score of 36 – significantly lower than the average score of 42.

Quick Commutes, Low Costs, Limited Traffic Typify Best American Commuting Cities

Americans seeking opportunity were once told to “go West, young man.” Americans seeking a positive commuting experience should take different advice, and go to the North and Midwest.

According to the study, seven of the 10 best commuting cities in the U.S. are in the North or Midwest. Ohio alone has three of the 10 best American commuting cities in Columbus, Cleveland, and Cincinnati.

Cities in the North and Midwest tend to stand out on two commuting factors. The first is price. Low costs are enjoyable in all facets of life – from groceries to childcare to real estate – and many cities in the North and Midwest have low commuting costs.

Consider Columbus, in which the annual car insurance premium is $1,350, compared to the $1,759 national average. In Milwaukee, commuters spend $603 yearly on fuel – $160 less than the average American city. Cincinnati’s commuters keep more of their money in their pocket, retaining $754 more dollars every year than the average commuter in the U.S.

The second reason the North and Midwest offer pleasant commutes is saving time. Commuters in these regions spend less time in traffic. Throughout much of the North and Midwest, average one-way commutes are under 30 minutes. In Buffalo, the average one-way commute is only 22 minutes – a big part of why the City of Good Neighbors is the second-rated commuter city in the U.S.

The top-ranked city in the study, Salt Lake City, isn’t in the North or Midwest. Like other cities in the West and South with favorable commuter rankings, Salt Lake City is boosted in the study by the fact that many workers don’t commute at all. 12.5% of workers in Salt Lake City work from home – 29% more than workers in the average American city.

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