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Institute and MassINC release study detailing commuting patterns in Massachusetts

Bay State workers are spending more time on the road, with Massachusetts ranking ninth in the nation in terms of average commuting time. On an annual basis, this costs the average commuter the equivalent of 25 work days lost in transit rather than other pursuits, according to a new study released today. The report, "Mass.Commuting," is a joint project of the UMass Donahue Institute and MassINC and was underwritten by MassHousing.

Almost one in five Massachusetts commuters – 551,000 people – spends at least an hour and a half (45 minutes each way) traveling to and from work every day. The situation worsened between 1980 and 2000, when the share of long commutes rose from 11 percent to 18 percent. The study also provides a comprehensive demographic profile of these long commuters and finds that they are typically higher income households, with higher levels of education, and more likely to own a home. This suggests that many Massachusetts workers are choosing to forego a shorter commute in order to afford homes in communities that they find desirable.

Drawing on an analysis of Census data from 1980, 1990 and 2000, "Mass.Commuting" compares Massachusetts to all other states. It reveals that – of the 10 states with the longest commute times in 2000 – the situation in Massachusetts got worse faster than all but one state, Georgia. When compared to all 50 states, Massachusetts’ commute time got worse at the sixth fastest rate in the 20 years leading up to 2000.

In identifying five “commuting hot spots,” the study also challenges conventional wisdom that long commutes are largely a Boston-area phenomenon. The five hot spots are collections of adjacent communities with high average commute times. The percent of residents in the hot spots with long commutes (at least 45 minutes each way) is much larger than the state average of 18.4 percent. The hot spots and share of long commuters are: Western Mass. Hill Towns (32.7 percent), the Quabbin Region (29.8 percent), the Nashoba Valley (27.2 percent), Metrowest-495 South (29.9 percent) and the Coastal South Shore (34.7 percent).

Southeastern Massachusetts commuters were most likely to face a long commute, with 22 percent spending an average of at least 45 minutes traveling each way. Meanwhile, the Berkshires and the Cape and the Islands have the largest share of commuters with a commute time of less than 15 minutes.

The study also reports good news. In 2000, the Bay State had the fourth highest level of use of public transportation in the nation, bucking a national trend of turning away from public transit. The study also finds that commuting is an important source of labor for the Commonwealth. In 2000, Massachusetts received more than 75,000 more commuters from other states than it sent to them. (176,741 in-bound commuters versus 101,081 out-bound commuters.)

"Mass.Commuting" finds that more cars and greater distances traveled partly account for the lengthening commutes. The number of car registrations in Massachusetts skyrocketed by 48 percent between 1992 and 2002. The average distance traveled by commuters increased by about 10 percent between 1990 and 2000.

Other key findings include:

  • Time spent commuting increased by 19 percent between 1990 and 2000. The average Massachusetts commuter lost the equivalent of 25 (8-hour) workdays commuting to and from work in 2000.
  • Massachusetts commuters who travel by public transportation consistently have the highest commute times, a relationship that is consistent with other states that have high use of public transportation.
  • Nearly half of all out-of-state commuters came from New Hampshire, while nearly one in three originated in Rhode Island.
  • The Cape and Islands and the Pioneer Valley regions are the only two regions of the state that suffer a net loss of workers to other states. In the Pioneer Valley, 2.5 times as many workers leave the state for work compared to the number of workers who enter the region for work (24,843 vs. 9,078 workers).
  • The Massachusetts community with the longest average commute is the rural town of Middlefield (pop. 542), where residents spend an average of 41.6 minutes on their way to and from work each day.



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