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The University of Alabama

How Long Does It Take You to Get to Work? UA Analyst Reacts

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — The average American commuter who drives to work needs 25 minutes and 18 seconds to make the trip.

That’s according to the U.S. Census Bureau’s recently released findings from the 2010 American Community Survey, the most relied-on source for up-to-date socioeconomic information every year.

The release covers more than 40 topics, including commuting patterns for areas that have at least 65,000 people, according to Annette Watters, manager of the Alabama State Data Center at The University of Alabama. The data center is part of the Culverhouse College of Commerce.

“The travel time to work is longer in many parts of the country than it is in Alabama,” Watters said. “The national average in 2010 was 25.3 minutes, and the Alabama average was 24.1 minutes. This survey does not take into consideration the travel time for trips other than going to and from work. Leisure makes up less than 20 percent of trips on U.S. roads.

“Travel time to work inched up for Alabamians for decades,” Watters said. “In 1980, the first time the census collected such information, Alabama’s average travel time to work was 21.6 minutes, then increased to just over 24 minutes in 2000, where it remained in 2010.”

Other bits that Watters gleaned from the census data include:

  • In 2010, workers were less likely to carpool than they were in 2000. In 2000, 12.3 percent of Alabama’s workers carpooled. By 2010, it was only 9.0 percent.
  • Alabamians love to drive themselves to work, one worker per car. Nearly 77 percent of all American workers drive alone to work, but 85 percent of Alabamians are cruising to work every day with nobody else in the car, truck or van.
  • Public transportation is Alabama’s least favorite way to get to work. Less than one half of one percent of workers in Alabama use public transportation (excluding taxicab).The national average is about 5 percent. The New York, San Francisco and Washington DC metro areas have the highest percentages of workers using public transportation to get to their jobs.
  • Travel time to work is longer, on average, if you live in one of Alabama’s rural areas than if you live in a metro or micropolitan area.Two exceptions to that generalization are the Birmingham-Hoover metropolitan area and the Daphne-Fairhope-Foley micropolitan area (Baldwin County). Many workers in those areas have longer commutes than the state or national averages. In 2010, workers who live in the Birmingham metro area needed 26 minutes to get to work, on average. Workers in Baldwin County needed 27.1 minutes.

The Birmingham-Hoover metro area is, of course, Alabama’s largest economic area, and it can take a little while to navigate through rush hour traffic there. Baldwin County is a large county, and workers travelling from one end to the other to their jobs, or travelling to and from Mobile County, also have to spend more time commuting than other Alabamians.

  • Average travel time to work was highest in Maryland (31.8 minutes), followed by New York (31.3 minutes). North Dakota and South Dakota had the shortest travel times, at 16.1 minutes and 16.8 minutes, respectively. Not coincidentally, Maryland also had the second-highest percentage of workers with jobs outside their county of residence (47.0 percent), behind only Virginia (51.3 percent). New Jersey (45.7 percent) and Georgia (41.6 percent) followed Maryland.

The 2010 American Community Survey statistics are not part of the 2010 census. They are based on a sample survey of the nation conducted over the course of the 2010 calendar year and describe how Americans live by providing estimates of key social, economic and housing characteristics.

As is the case with all surveys, statistics from sample surveys are subject to sampling and nonsampling errors. Changes in survey design from year to year can also affect results.

See for more information on changes affecting the 2010 statistics. See for guidance on comparing 2010 ACS statistics with previous years and the 2000 Census.

The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.