Rush hour travel times in the Valley are no problem when compared to the rest of the nation.
Tuning in to 92.3 KTAR-FM in the mornings or around the 4:30 p.m. rush, one likely hears Larry Lewis or “Detour Dan” mention the drives on Loop 101 between 75th Avenue and Frank Lloyd Wright Boulevard, or 91st Avenue to 7th Street via Interstate 10. Very rarely has 90 minutes been thrown around.
But across the U.S., more workers dubbed “Super Commuters” are traveling 90-plus minutes both to and from their employment.
According to Apartment List, the number of “super commuters” has increased by 31.7 percent since 2005. Over the same period, the number of Americans who work from home has seen an even sharper increase of 76 percent.
In compiling the stats, the amount of time spent traveling includes multiple modes of transportation, be it a personal vehicle, bus, train, or walking. In addition, the time encapsulates a worker’s whole travel.
If for example, someone rode the bus, their travel time includes their walk to the bus stop, the amount of time on the bus, and their subsequent walk to their office.
Apartment List attributes the growth of super commuters and work-from-homers to changing preferences, improved technology, and a lack of affordable housing in many of the nation’s hottest job markets.
In the Phoenix metro area, 1.8 percent of the workforce are super commuters, which puts it No. 56 among the biggest metro areas. The share is the same as it was in 2005, according to Apartment List. That is despite the reported 16 percent increase in the number of super commuters between 2005 and 2017.
Chris Salviati, housing economist at Apartment List, said downtown areas of particular metros often offer the kind of high-paying white-collar jobs people seek, but not enough housing options are available, pushing employees to live in the outskirts where housing is in abundance.
“One of the keys points that we made in the report nationally is super commuting has a pretty significant wage premium than normal,” Mr. Salviati said. “What you’re seeing is a lot of people who are super commuters are making a balanced choice over what they want in a career and what they want at home.”
Mr. Salviati said one thing that separates the Phoenix area from most other metros is that there are a separate group of super commuters who don’t necessarily earn higher incomes but may have to travel long distances to get to a job. However, they might be reliant on less than ideal transit options (bus or rail).
The commute times and earnings are based on where an individual lives. The share of super commuters is based on people living within a metro area, and not coming into the metro area. However, those people may be traveling to areas outside of the metro, Mr. Salviati said.
“Another facet we found is that mining and construction industries are two of the biggest industries for share of super commuters,” he said, adding those jobs may require traveling long distances to sites.
Working from the couch
On the other side of the spectrum, the Valley has 6.2 percent of its workforce at home, up from 3.3 percent in 2005. Apartment List said the highest rates of working from home are found in mid-sized technology hubs like Austin, Raleigh, and Denver.
While most metro areas see their super commuters earning more than normal commuters, the Phoenix area is the opposite. Normal commuters are making $46,000 compared to $45,350 for super commuters.
However, the work-from-home brass out-earns all commuters, taking (or keeping) home a median $70,000.
“Not that working from home is causing people to earn more,” Mr. Salviati said. “The occupations that allow people to work at home simply have higher wages. A lot of that is focused on high-skilled white-collared jobs. Creative occupations and tech-based. Computer programmers where you’re doing a lot of your work on your computer and can do it anywhere.”
Working from home may seem ideal, but Mr. Salviati recommends those people stay vigilant about routines and when your work and home times are.
“If you have a dedicated home office, you can make those boundaries a little more clear,” he said. “It might also be a good idea to have some good go-to spots. Coffee shops, things like that to have a little more social interaction. For some working from home can be a little bit of an isolating experience. Having places outside home can combat that.”
Tucson actually mirrors national trends, with normal commuters earning $41,000 compared to $48,000 for super commuters. This may come from the fact that more people from the second most populous city in Arizona might travel to parts of the southeast Valley, if not Phoenix itself. Tucson is roughly an hour and 30 minutes from Chandler’s downtown area. Work-from-homers only earn $50,000 compared to super commuters.
Improving the freeways
The increase in population also plays a role in traffic time. With more vehicles on the road and bunched up at rush hour, moving a half a mile could take five to 10 minutes.
In the Valley, several freeway projects are looking to cut down time on the road.
The biggest is the Loop 202 South Mountain Freeway extension, which will provide a connection between the southeast Valley (I-10/Loop 202) and the West Valley (59th Avenue/I-10) by escaping the heart of Phoenix.
The Arizona Department of Transportation is also widening Loop 101 in the North Valley. I-10 has also seen some work done southeast of the Valley, in addition to new changes near the Loop 202 extension in west Phoenix.
Northern Parkway will provide a more seamless pathway from Loop 303 to downtown Glendale, as the Maricopa County Department of Transportation has plans to extend the highway past Loop 101 and towards Grand and 67th avenues.