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It’s Super-Commuter!

You think you have a long drive to work? Ben Wear writes about a study of people who take it to the extreme.

A flying car would make that commute feel shorter

The researchers define a supercommuter as someone who works in the central county of a metropolitan area but lives beyond the official boundaries of that metropolitan area. They used census data to draw their conclusions.

Among their findings:

  • City “labor sheds,” the areas from which workers flow into the workplace, “are expanding rapidly and super-commuter growth rates are far outpacing workforce growth rates.” Supercommuting is growing in eight of the nation’s 10 largest cities, with the exceptions being Atlanta and Minneapolis.

    To some degree, the study’s authors say, the growth of the Internet and other electronic tools that make it possible for workers to carry their office with them have contributed to the phenomenon. Some of these employees work from home some of the time, traveling to an actual office only once or twice a week.

  • Dallas-Fort Worth and Houston have the greatest percentages of supercommuters, with approximately 13 percent of the workforces in those cities living beyond the exurbs. According to the report released last month, 51,900 people commute from Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston each week, and 44,300 people from Houston work in Dallas.

    Perhaps these people should call each other and discuss some house swaps.

  • Houston has 251,200 supercommuters working there, a figure that grew 98 percent between 2002 and 2009. Dallas had 175,700 of them, with 38.4 percent growth during those seven years. Mind you, that’s a period during which the average cost of gas rose from about a $1.20 a gallon to well above $3 a gallon.

Austin is very much a part of this trend. The report says that about 35,400 people from greater Austin commute to Houston, and 32,400 live here and work in Dallas-Fort Worth. So, not even counting Austinites who commute to San Antonio — the report didn’t have that data — that means about 1 of every 25 people who lives in this area (including infants and children) works in those two cities.

Report co-author Mitchell Moss said he and researchers did not make the opposite calculation, figuring how many people like Hurt commute to Austin from Houston or the Metroplex.

The report said these supercommuters tend to be young and to make less than $40,000. The motivation, typically, is to live where housing is cheap and work where the work is.

The study in question was done by NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management. Here’s the abstract:

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.

The full report is here. There was a Chron story from five years ago that said “9.7 percent of Houston-area residents and 7.2 percent of Dallas-Fort Worth-area residents have commutes of more than an hour”, so there’s a comparison for you. The 251,200 supercommuters for the Houston area (which they define as the “Harris County Center of the Houston-Baytown-Huntsville CSA”) must represent both those who go as well as those who come, because the table on page 12 that lists the top 10 metro areas of residence for non-local workers in our area only sums to about 144,000, and I rather doubt the tail is long enough to have another 100K people in it. Dallas-Forth Worth (51,900), Austin (35,400), and San Antonio (31,100) are the three biggest contributors to our non-local work force, while some 44,000 people live here but work in the Metroplex. You’ve got to figure that these folks would form a large portion of the initial ridership for that long-awaited high speed rail network in Texas if it ever gets built. Anyway, the next time you’re stuck on the freeway and you find yourself wondering where all these people came from, now you know. Houston Tomorrow has more.

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3 Comments

  1. landslide says:

    And that doesn’t even include long-haul commutes that begin and end within the MSA. I knew a guy that used to commute to a refinery job near Channelview from his home in Katy, a drive of about 3 hours round-trip (it took longer to get home in the afternoon.)

  2. commuter-bob says:

    I have a friend that commutes 110 miles each way to work in Washington D.C. His morning commute is about 2.5 hours and going home is approximately 3-3.5 hours.
    He is one serious commuter.

  3. […] rail has pretty much nothing to do with commuting, unless you’re one of those people who lives in one city and works in another. It certainly has nothing to do with getting around a […]