Maps

The Rise of the Super Commuter

The number of people who work in a different city than they live is growing rapidly.

Image
Reuters

Super-commuting is on the rise, according to a fascinating new report by Mitchell Moss and Carson Qing of NYU's Rudin Center for Transportation Policy and Management.

The report defines a "super-commuter" as someone who commutes from one metro to another by car, rail, bus, or air, identifying them with the U.S. Census OnTheMap tool. The report tracked the trends in the nation's ten largest metros with the exception of Washington, D.C., where data was unavailable.

Despite the image of high-priced executives and consultants zipping across the country on planes, the report finds that super-commuters tend to be younger (under 29) and middle class on average. And while they bring in a higher income, they should not be confused with elite business travelers, the report's authors write:

[T]he super-commuting population should not be perceived as elite business travelers, but rather more representative of middle-income individuals who may opt for more affordable housing and means of transportation, such as driving or intercity buses.

 

(Click the map to see a larger version)

In the map above (from the report), the star is the work destination point and the dots that surround the city represent a percentage of the workforce that lives outside the census-defined metropolitan region.

The highest levels of super-commuting are found in Houston and Dallas, Texas, where more than 13 percent of workers - 251,000 and 176,000, respectively - are super-commuters. Super-commuting is also substantial in Phoenix (131,000 workers or 8.6 percent of all workers), Atlanta (47,700 or 7.5 percent), and Philadelphia (42,100 or 7.3 percent).

The growth rate of super-commuters from 2002 to 2009 is equally amazing. In Houston, the growth of super-commuters was nearly 100 percent, followed by Los Angeles (77 percent), Seattle (60 percent), New York City (60 percent), and Philadelphia (50 percent). Super-commuting is growing in eight of the ten metros covered by the study.

The most popular super-commuting routes among major U.S. cities are Tucson to Phoenix, Ariz. (54,400 workers), Houston to Dallas (44,300 workers), Dallas to Houston, (51,900 workers), Austin to Dallas (32,400 workers), and San Diego to Los Angeles (78,300 workers).  

(Click the map to see a larger version)

The second map (also from the study) shows the nation's emerging super-commuting corridors. These are quite similar to the nation's mega-regions. They include the Northeast Corridor linking Boston and New York; the Keystone Corridor from Pittsburgh to Philadelphia; the Midwest Quadrant connecting Chicago to Indianapolis, St. Louis, and Detroit; The Texas Triangle of Austin, Dallas, and Houston; the Arizona Sun Corridor between Phoenix and Tucscon; the California Corridor running from San Francisco down to Los Angeles; and the Northwest Corridor connecting Portland and Seattle.

Super-commuting is stretching the boundaries of what we mean by "the city." For most of human history, the city was defined by what was walkable. But advances in transportation technology, especially in the 19th and 20th centuries, expanded its boundaries, leading to the rise of metro areas and ultimately to the growth of mega-regions. These new technologies speed the movement of people, goods and ideas. 

The report notes that the rise in super-commuting reflects growing economic integration between what were once independent and far-flung cities and metro areas. More and more, super-commuting is part of our increasingly spiky world which stretches the boundaries of our cities and creates larger and more integrated economic regions.

About the Author

  • Richard Florida is Co-founder and Editor at Large of CityLab.com and Senior Editor at The Atlantic. He is director of the Martin Prosperity Institute at the University of Toronto and Global Research Professor at NYU. More
    Florida is author of The Rise of the Creative ClassWho's Your City?, and The Great Reset. He's also the founder of the Creative Class Group, and a list of his current clients can be found here