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Back in the Fast Lane: Commuting, Coffee, and the Quest for Pre-Pandemic Normalcy

Seattle, San Francisco, Oakland, San Jose, Los Angeles, San Diego, Orange County, commuting
Photo by Alan Carrillo on Unsplash

By Billy the Broker (I just want to stay anonymous)

Remember the good old days when commuting felt like a never-ending game of “How long can you sit in traffic without losing your mind?” Well, folks, those days might be making a comeback, and we’ve got all the juicy details courtesy of Yardi Cube. Hold onto your coffee cups; it’s time to talk about the resurgence of the daily commute.

Commutes & Coffee: An Unbreakable Bond

Commutes have always had a special relationship with coffee. It’s like they’re the dynamic duo of adulting. But as remote work took over during the pandemic, our beloved commute-coffee connection faced a breakup. People were sipping their java in pajamas instead of travel mugs. However, with the return to the office, the coffee cups are back on the go, and our mugs couldn’t be happier.

The Commute Comeback: We’re Almost There

The U.S. Census has spoken, and it’s official: Commutes are back, baby! In 2019, we spent an average of 55.2 minutes a day navigating the jungle of honking cars and unpredictable traffic. Fast forward to 2022, and that number has dropped to 52.8 minutes, a 4 percent decrease. It’s like we’re living in the golden age of commuting again, folks, except we’re not.

Hold on to your steering wheels; here’s the twist: If you compare 2022 to 2021, you’ll notice something unexpected. In 2021, the average commute time was 25.6 minutes one way (51.2 minutes a day), and it felt like we’d finally reached a happy equilibrium. But in 2022, our daily journeys returned to 26.4 minutes each way, echoing the commute times from 2015. It’s like the universe said, “You thought 2021 was the endgame? Nah, let’s crank up the difficulty level.”

Remote Work vs. Commuting: The Battle Rages On

The relationship between remote work and commutes is like a seesaw: when one goes up, the other comes down. In 2019, about 9 million of us (6 percent) had the luxury of remote work, and commutes were a tad brutal. But in 2022, with 24 million people (15 percent) working remotely, we enjoyed a sweet reprieve from traffic jams.

However, in the great remote work debate, 2022 threw us a curveball. A whopping 3 million people returned to the office compared to 2021. Suddenly, the number of commuters jumped from 82 percent to 85 percent in a year. While we’re far from the 94 percent pre-pandemic figure, it’s a noticeable shift.

Commuting Chronicles: Regional Adventures

Across the country, the commuting story varies by region. New York City commuters stole the show, spending an average of 40.7 minutes one way in 2022. They’re inching ever closer to the pre-pandemic record of 41.7 minutes, like true commuting champs.

Meanwhile, in Wichita, Kansas, commuters had the shortest one-way journey, a breezy 18.5 minutes. It’s a commuter’s paradise compared to the Big Apple’s endurance test.

West Coast Wonders

The West Coast had its share of commuting adventures. San Francisco, California, emerged as the winner, with commuters saving a glorious 5 minutes each way in 2022. That’s 43 hours saved in a year! San Jose wasn’t far behind, with 32.5 percent of folks working remotely and sharing in the time-saving fun.

In Oakland, California, a 23.9 percent increase in remote work from 2019 to 2022 meant a whopping 9.6-minute reduction in daily commutes. In 2019, it was a solid 34.4 minutes one way; in 2022, it was a much more palatable 29.6 minutes.

The Future of Commuting: Fasten Your Seatbelts

As remote work and in-office work tango their way into the future, one thing’s for sure: commuting is here to stay. While remote work won’t fade into oblivion, it’s unlikely to completely replace in-office work. So, brace yourselves, commuters, because the journey continues. As more workers trade their pajamas for office attire, commute times are on an upward trajectory, ready to surpass pre-pandemic levels.

The return to the office is rewriting the commuting playbook. Coffee cups are back in hand, traffic jams are becoming familiar, and the daily grind is, well, grinding again. While the commute has evolved, it remains a central part of the American work experience. So, adjust your playlists and get ready to hit the road because, in the immortal words of the Beatles, “The long and winding road” is back, and we’re all on it together.