Super-Commuting vs. Mega-Commuting


Carson Qing & Sarah Kaufman

Earlier this week, The U.S. Census released a report announcing the proliferation of “mega-commuters,” 600,000 Americans who travel at least 90 minutes and 50 miles each way. It’s slightly different from the “super-commuters” we at the NYU Rudin Center defined last year, who are individuals who work in one county (usually of a major metropolitan area), but live in another, usually commuting more than 90 miles each way.

The most pressing difference between the terms “mega-commuter” and “super-commuter” is that the former focuses on the individuals traveling long distances regularly to their workplaces, while the latter also includes people who make these journeys once or twice or week, at most. These long-distance, low-frequency super-commuters may travel to the office only once or twice per week at most, or maintain similarly unconventional schedules. Our definition of a super-commuter, estimated to be 3% to 10% of the workforce depending on the city, includes both “mega-commuters” and low-frequency, long-distance commuters who were not captured in the mega-commuter definition. The graphic below illustrates the differences between these two types of super-commuters in their travel behavior.

 

The U.S. Census Bureau provides two data sources to define origins and destinations of commuter flows. To define the mega-commuter, the Census Bureau used American Community Survey (ACS), which measures data from only 7.5% of the working population, then extrapolates the data for a larger population based from that sample. But the Census Bureau’s OnTheMap tool (OTM), used in our super-commuter report last year, extracts employment data directly from state employment insurance records and represents coverage of nearly all employees and their work locations, with the exception of self-employed individuals. Because of this difference between ACS and OTM, the “mega-commuter” figure is most likely an undercount of long-distance commuters.

Using OTM, we found nearly 650,000 long-distance commuters in the top five U.S. super-commuting metropolitan areas who commute to the core county from a county outside the metropolitan area. OTM is more successful at capturing low-frequency commuting trips than the ACS, because the ACS’s line of questioning focuses on frequent trip-making, asking respondents where did they work for the majority of the past week and how did they travel to work, and assumes that the sample data applies to a larger population[1]. Low-frequency commuters are coded as “working from home” in the ACS, even though in reality their link to the workplace is not severed: the trips are made less frequently, due to the impediments of travel time, distance, and cost.

The rise of “tele-commuters,” who now represent 10% of the total workforce (or in the case of Aetna, 47% of its workforce, up from 9% in 2005[2]), and low-frequency, long-distance commuting has created a fundamental shift in the way people travel between home and work. The traditional “Journey to Work” survey methodology used in the ACS does not fully capture new patterns of commuting or the growing distances between home and work locations in metropolitan regions. It neglects the large and growing number of Americans who do not travel exclusively between home and work on a regular basis. Thus, transportation planners and researchers should not overly rely on the “Journey to Work” methodology to analyze and understand transportation flows: a more nuanced data source that captures a greater variety of trip purposes is increasingly necessary to analyze travel behavior in this new era of commuting.


[1] Spear, Bruce. “Improving Employment Data for Transportation Planning.” Cambridge Systematics. September 2011. http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/nchrp/docs/NCHRP08-36(98)_FR.pdf

[2] Miller, C. & Rampbell, C. “Yahoo Orders Home Workers Back to the Office.” The New York Times. 25 February 2013.

The Super-Commuter and Transportation Policy


By Carson Qing

In our recently released super-commuter study, we defined a potential super-commuter as an individual who works in the core county of one metropolitan labor market, but lives in another metropolitan area, based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s OnTheMap tool. Using these definitions, super-commuters may include individuals who commute daily, weekly, monthly, or may not even commute at all, working remotely. Below is a chart of the most common super-commutes in the United States.

The Arizona Sun Corridor is the most prominent super-commute corridor in the nation, based on the 10 core counties of the largest metropolitan labor markets. Residents from the Tucson area commuting to the Phoenix area (Maricopa County) account for 3.6% of the latter’s workforce, or 54,400 total. Robert Lang and Arthur Nelson have conducted extensive research on the growing convergence between metropolitan regions, and first coined the term “Sun Corridor,” which they predict will become the next Dallas-Fort Worth, merging into a mega-region of 9 million people over the next few decades.

Transportation planners in Arizona are already quite familiar with the impact of that super-commutes are having along the Sun Corridor. Arizona DOT planners estimate that already lengthy super-commutes on Interstate 10 between Tucson and Phoenix would take more than twice as long in 2050 due to a doubling in travel demand, even if the road were to be widened, primarily due to population and economic growth, as well as the already substantial volume of daily commutes between the two cities. Consequently, DOT officials are in the early stages of studying the impact of a multi-billion dollar intercity passenger rail line connecting the two cities in anticipation of the mega-region’s emergence and to sustain its current economic and demographic growth. Establishing a rail corridor may allow land use planners to shape development patterns in a way that e  nhances mobility between the regions and further alleviates the anticipated traffic congestion along the I-10 corridor. The Phoenix-Tucson rail initiative exemplifies how the emergence of the super-commuter during the past decade is already making a significant and important impact in regional transportation policy. On Thursday, I will discuss what the private sector has already done to facilitate these super-commutes nationwide.

New Report: The Dynamic Population of Manhattan


 

In our new report, we look at the 24-hour flow of people into Manhattan, including the 1.6 million commuters who enter Manhattan every weekday, and the hundreds of thousands of visitors who use Manhattan’s tourist attractions, hospitals, universities, and nightclubs. This island, measuring just 22.96 square miles, serves approximately 4 million people on a typical weekday, 2.9 million on a weekend day, and a weekday night population of 2.05 million. Manhattan, with a residential population of 1.6 million, more than doubles its daytime population as a result of the complex network of tunnels, bridges, railroad lines, subways, commuter rail, ferry systems, bicycle lanes, and pedestrian walkways that link Manhattan to the surrounding counties, cities and towns.

This report analyzes the volume of people flowing in and out of Manhattan during a 24-hour period; we provide an upper estimate of the actual number of people in Manhattan during a typical work day.

Click here for the full report.