A thought experiment in mega-commuting.
There are probably better descriptions for this query than humble, but in the spirit of the thought-experiment, we’ll bite. Trusting yourslice’s numbers, the basic math goes like this: $1,012 in rent for a two-bedroom apartment within 10 miles of Las Vegas, $1,120 on four round-trip flights a week (working remotely on the fifth day), and $276 in ground transportation via BART once you land at SFO. Totaling those costs still comes out to less than the average monthly rent for a one-bedroom in San Francisco; via Reddit:
Added together, it would cost you $2,408 a month to live in and commute from Las Vegas, meaning a savings of $715 a month (and double the apartment space) compared to living in San Francisco.
Add in a reduced cost of living, estimated at $409 a month, and yourslice settles on a monthly savings of $1,124—or nearly $13,500 more a year to
waste in online sports fantasy games spend as you wish. But your happiness is important to us here at CityLab, so at the risk of taking this exercise a little too seriously, consider a few other factors before you sublet your existing San Francisco bunk bed on Craigslist and become a bona fide mega-commuter.
Your time is valuable
Commuting to San Francisco from Las Vegas is about 90 minutes per flight leg, or three hours of air time a day. Add in a very conservative 30 minutes of ground transportation at either end and you’re quickly up to four hours of travel before even considering airline delays. (In 2015, JetBlue’s on-time rate on flights through SFO is roughly 73 percent, and about 77 percent at McCarran International.) Money and time are both scarce resources, but only one can be replenished.
So is your health
All the scientific evidence suggests that, in technical terms, commuting is hell on your health. Of all the commute modes, driving is the most stressful, in part because traffic is so unpredictable. But you don’t need a study to see how stressful things might get when you mix the inconsistent drive to the airport with the general mayhem of air travel and the erratic reliability of metro rail. Ask your doctor if your heart is healthy enough to become a mega-commuter.
Jobs don’t last forever
Telecommuting is on the rise, but it would still take a pretty cool employer to let a worker live a flight away from the office. But let’s say a new boss arrives and wants people in the office every day—or let’s just say you get tired of your job and want a new one. (To wit: Baby Boomers held about a dozen jobs from ages 18 to 48.) Unless your secret dream is to become a croupier, the networking and job opportunities 10 miles outside Vegas are not what they are in San Francisco.
The hidden costs of car-ownership
Part of what you get for the high price of rent in San Francisco is access to an excellent public transportation system that renders car ownership unnecessary. That doesn’t make the Bay a bargain, but it does make the city a little more affordable. Leave it for metro Vegas, though, and that means buying a car, filling it with gas, maintaining it in the face of crumbling roads, and paying for daily parking at the airport—costs that eat into your savings pretty quickly.
You’d have to live 10 miles outside Las Vegas
All due respect to residents of this fine region, of course.
The stats on mega-commuting are slim
For these reasons and many others, few people make the type of trade outlined by Reddit user yourslice. Recent Census data finds that only 5 percent of all commuters have a super-long trip to work. Of these, less than 1 percent are considered true “mega-commuters”—defined as people who commute more than 90 minutes and live more than 50 miles from work. The rest are people who simply live far away from their job (likely “drive to qualify” types who wanted a big house) or have a commute that simply takes a long time (likely because they live in a congested metro area or rely on public transit).
There is some evidence that super-commuting is on the rise. In 2012, Mitchell Moss and Carson Qing of NYU reported super-commuting growth in eight of America’s 10 largest metro areas—with super-commuters accounting for 13 percent of the workforce in Dallas and Houston. That number is startling, but despite coming from some top researchers, it carries heavy caveats. Moss and Qing define super-commuters as working in a city’s central county but living outside the metro area’s boundaries. But their count includes people who only make such a trip as seldom as once a week, and they can’t know for sure that these are regular commute trips. Via their paper:
These figures and trends on “supercommuting” should be interpreted as potential or likely super-commuters, since the data only reflects residential location.
Of course, super-commuting can be done. Reddit user yourslice claims inspiration from another blogger, Sam Cookney, who made a similar proposal that caught the eye of the Internet a couple years back, suggesting he save on rent by moving to Barcelona and commuting back to London. Although Cookney’s plan also began as a thought-experiment, Fortune recently reported that he made good on it and couldn’t be happier:
“I moved here for the better quality of life. I have my own two-bedroom flat in the city center, as opposed to a room in a shared flat in Zone Two in London. My life is so significantly better compared to what I had in London, where I got to work stressed and annoyed after taking the tube. I think taking a walk on the beach before work definitely changes my mindset.”
It’s hard to argue with that. (We’ll try anyway: one, it’s not so fun to wash sand off your feet, and two, Sam Cookney is the exception proving the rule.) It’s also hard to argue with yourslice’s big-picture conclusion that “living in San Francisco is really, really expensive.” If only the solution to that problem were as easy as moving everyone to Las Vegas.