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10 longest commutes in the U.S.

Census data reveal that Maryland drivers spend the most time traveling to work.

By Claire_Martin Nov 5, 2012 7:24AM

Maryland Traffic photo by Andrew BossiA new survey shows that American commutes are long and lonely. On average, commuters log 25.5 minutes getting to work each day, and three-quarters of commuters drive alone, according to the 2009-2011 American Community Survey, a program run by the US Census Bureau. 

Maryland drivers have it the worst, logging 32.2 minutes in transit, with New Yorkers trailing close behind at 31.5 minutes. New Jersey, the District of Columbia, Illinois, Massachusetts, Virginia, California, Georgia and New Hampshire round out the 10 longest commutes.

In the minority are car poolers, at 10 percent of commuters, and those relying on public transportation, 5 percent.

The reason so many drive solo? Free parking. "If you can park free at work, it's an invitation to drive to work alone. And almost everybody who does drive to work has this invitation," Donald Shoup, a UCLA professor of urban planning, told California Watch, an independent group of investigative reporters.

A recent study by the European GPS manufacturer TomTom, which ranked the top metro areas in North America with the worst traffic, put Los Angeles at the top of the list, not surprisingly. Houston, San Francisco and Minneapolis were singled out for having burgeoning gridlock problems.

A possible solution to our collective commuting woes could lie in legislation that was passed two decades ago in California. In 1992, a law requiring companies to offer employees the option of receiving cash instead of free parking was passed. Shoup, who conducted a study of this "cash-out program," found that when it was used, it resulted in a 17 percent drop in solo driving, a 50 percent boost in public-transportation usage, a 33 percent rise in walking and biking and a 64 percent increase in car pooling. 

And yet, few people take advantage of the program. If they did, Shoup says, it would be a game-changer: "It would really turn things upside down. Parking, which used to be free, now has an opportunity cost. They could get cash, so now you think, 'Well, gee, maybe I should think about transit.'"

[Sources: California Watch, U.S. Census Bureau]


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