Commuting to Work in California

For many people, commuting is just part of the job. If you don't work from home, you have to get to your job one way or another. But commuting is more significant than just traveling back and forth from home to work every day. A 2011 poll commissioned by The Workforce Institute showed that 48 percent of respondents said their daily commute had a significant impact on the satisfaction they found in their job. Keeping tabs on commuting trends and making either business-level or government-level policy changes to improve commute times are both key factors in improving worker satisfaction and business growth.

The average commuting time in the United States is about 25 minutes. California ranks 10th on the list of longest commute times, largely due to lengthy commutes in urban and suburban areas of Southern California. It is notable that in the period between 1990 and 2004, the median commute time for California drivers decreased by 9 percent, but the overall average commute time rose by 10 percent, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. This shows that commutes for many Californians are very reasonable, but a segment of the population has experienced a drastic rise in their commute times.

One of the biggest factors in lengthening commutes is decentralization. As people and businesses spread to other cities and suburbs, commute times increase to match, especially as those areas become more heavily populated, and there are more drivers on the road. This is an area where policymakers can help because investing in public transportation and other road and transportation improvements have a big impact on how people choose to commute to work. People naturally seek out the most painless option to suit their circumstances. If there are more and better public transportation options – and if the right choices are made in building new infrastructure – commute times can be improved for everyone.

Government can take other steps to influence commuters. For example, research has shown that the availability of free parking is one factor that leads people to drive alone to work. Based on this research, California passed a law in 1992 requiring employers to offer a cash-out program, where workers could receive cash instead of a free parking space. This type of program can significantly reduce the number of people who drive to work. But the law is relatively unknown, and few people take advantage of it. By publicizing this law or enacting other measures to make commuting by public transit or other means more appealing, average commuting times could drop.

Businesses can also help to improve commuting times for their own workforces. When workers are given the option to change their hours, they are able to shift their commute times to off-peak hours, giving them shorter drives and also reducing congestion on the roads for other drivers. Giving workers the option to work at home goes even further toward improving commute times because workers never have to drive at all. These kinds of measures can improve overall worker satisfaction and also increase productivity for many businesses because workers spend less time in their cars and more time getting work done, as well as having more flexibility to balance the rest of their lives.