Super-commuters in the news: A Roundup


Our recent report on super-commuters has struck a chord across the country, making the news in a variety of places:

Businessweek, Bloomberg, Toronto Globe & Mail and Atlantic Cities, among others, covered the growing trend of longer commutes.
– WNYC’s Transportation Nation featured a map of air commuters to New York City.
– USA Today discussed the number one super-commute corridor, between Tucson and Phoenix.
– The St. Louis Post-Dispatch featured a law professor who commutes weekly from Chicago to St. Louis.
– The Houston Chronicle saw the report as a call for more transportation options in the region.

This roundup is only some of the coverage shown here. What’s most telling is the broad reach of people affected by this growing trend, and how it affects local economies, commuters’ families, and the shrinking importance of in-office time.

 

Super-Commuters and the Market for Inter-City Transportation


By Carson Qing

Earlier this week, we examined the impact of the super-commuter’s emergence on transportation policies, using the example of the Arizona Department of Transportation’s study of a potential intercity rail line connecting Tucson and Phoenix, one of the most prominent super-commute corridors in the nation. But in recent years, the private sector has serviced a great number of these super-commutes.

While the Northeast Corridor is well-served by Amtrak, a fleet of discount bus companies (Megabus, Boltbus, Peter Pan, and several enterprising Chinatown bus operators) has provided an alternative for potential super-commuters between major cities, in response to the growing market for affordable intercity travel. Because super-commuters tend to be younger and are more likely to come from middle-income backgrounds, they may very well be responsible for the growing success of the intercity bus industry in the Northeast.

Private bus companies have played a significant role in shuttling thousands of super-commuters from Eastern Pennsylvania to Manhattan on a daily basis. Since 2002, the number of residents in the East Stroudsburg, PA metro area working in Manhattan has more than doubled, gobbling up affordable and spacious single-family homes in the eastern Poconos. The 75-mile, 2 hour, $60 round-trip commute to the Port Authority Bus Terminal has become a popular option of these hardy commuters, profiled in this 2008 New York Times article. Private bus operators such as Martz and Transbridge provide commuter services to Manhattan from as far west as Wilkes-Barre and Allentown, respectively. Even though no public infrastructure investments have been made to support development in the area, Eastern Pennsylvania is quickly becoming one of New York City’s newest exurbs as private commuter bus companies have made these daily super-commutes to Manhattan feasible.

Airlines have also facilitated super-commuting by adding greater flight capacity along these emerging corridors: in 2005, JetBlue added 10 flights per day from Boston-Logan to JFK Airport, a 14% increase in capacity, according to the New York Times. Since 2006, the number of residents from the Boston metropolitan area working in Manhattan has doubled. Southwest Airlines, whose entire business model is centered on short, 200-400 mile trips that have seen a significant growth in potential commuters over the past decade, may also make it possible to shuttle between the Texas Triangle cities once or twice weekly. Along the fastest growing super-commuting corridor in the nation (Dallas to Houston), Southwest runs a staggering 25 flights per day between the two cities. These examples show how the market has already responded to the demand for inter-city travel and contributed to the growing trend of super-commuting, while transportation policies are only starting to account for this emerging segment of the labor force.

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.

The Emergence of the Super-Commuter


The twenty-first century is emerging as the century of the “super-commuter,” a person who works in the central county of a given metropolitan area, but lives beyond the boundaries of that metropolitan area, commuting long distance by air, rail, car, bus, or a combination of modes. The super-commuter typically travels once or twice weekly for work, and is a rapidly growing part of our workforce. The changing structure of the workplace, advances in telecommunications, and the global pattern of economic life have made the super-commuter a new force in transportation.

Many workers are not required to appear in one office five days a week; they conduct work from home, remote locations, and even while driving or flying. The international growth of broadband internet access, the development of home-based computer systems that rival those of the workplace, and the rise of mobile communications systems have contributed to the emergence of the super-commuter in the United States. Super-commuters are well-positioned to take advantage of higher salaries in one region and lower housing costs in another.

Many workers are not expected to physically appear in a single office at all: the global economy has made it possible for highly-skilled workers to be employed on a strictly virtual basis, acquiring clients anywhere and communicating via email, phone and video conference. Furthermore, the global economy has rendered the clock irrelevant, making it possible for people to work, virtually, in a different time zone than the one in which they live. Simply put, the workplace is no longer fixed in one location, but rather where the worker is situated. As a result, city labor sheds (where workers live) have expanded over the past decade to encompass not just a city’s exurbs, but also distant, non-local metropolitan regions, resulting in greater economic integration between cities situated hundreds of miles apart.

NYU’s Rudin Center has found that super-commuting is a growing trend in major United States regions, with growth in eight of the ten largest metropolitan areas.

Read the full report (PDF)