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Commute Getting Longer for Utah Workers

July 21, 2003 — It is taking longer on average for Utah workers to get to and from their jobs. That’s the finding of a new study by the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Utah’s David Eccles School of Business. Much of the study was based on census data from 1980, 1990, and 2000.

The study finds that commutes for Utah workers increased from a mean travel time of 19.3 minutes in 1980 to 21.3 minutes in 2000. This ranks Utah, in 2000, as having the 11th shortest commute-time among all 50 states. The metropolitan area populations of the states with shorter commutes are generally much smaller than those with longer commutes. States with the longest commute times include New York (31.7 minutes), Maryland (31.2 minutes), New Jersey (30.0 minutes), Illinois (28.0 minutes), and California (27.7 minutes). States with the shortest commute times are in a region extending from Idaho and Utah in the west to Iowa and Wisconsin in the east and extending south to include Oklahoma (excluding Colorado and Minnesota).

Besides commuting longer distances to work, more people in Utah are getting there by car. Driving alone is still the most common way to commute (779,440 or 78.8 percent of commuters) and had the second fastest commute (20.1 minutes). Walking or bicycling (33,790 or 3.4 percent of commuters) had the fastest (and undoubtedly shortest distance) commutes with a mean travel time of 12.5 minutes. Carpoolers (145,950 or 14.7 percent of commuters) had an average commute time of 25.6 minutes, while those taking public transportation (23,200 or 2.3 percent of commuters) had a mean travel time of 42.2 minutes.

All categories of commuters increased in number of total commutes from 1990 to 2000. Even so, all means of transportation lost shares to driving alone, which increased from 76.6 percent to 78.8 percent of commutes. Utah ranks 21 among all states in the relative use of public transportation by workers (2.3 percent of workers). BEBR senior researcher Pam Perlich says this is one area where a change in the numbers can be predicted. “This ranking should improve in the 2010 census data because of the addition of the University and Medical Center light rail (TRAX) lines,” said Perlich.

Commute times increased for all Utah counties from 1990 to 2000. Tooele County ranked first in 2000 with a mean travel time of 32.1 minutes, an increase of 10.1 minutes as compared to 1990. Other counties with long average commute times are Rich (29.0 minutes), Morgan (26.3 minutes), Piute (26.3 minutes), Wasatch (25.3 minutes), Summit (24.8 minutes), and Juab (23.1 minutes). Counties with large increases in commute times from 1990 to 2000 include Piute, Tooele, Daggett, and Rich.

One cause of the increasing commute times is an increase in the number and share of commuters with very long commutes. In 1990, there were an estimated 51,685 persons (7.3 percent of all Utah commuters) who reported commutes of 45 minutes or more. By 2000, an estimated 94,577 or 9.6 percent of commuters in the state reported these long (45 minutes or longer) commutes. In 2000, about one quarter (25.1 percent) of Utah commuters had travel times to work of 30 minutes or more.

While the great majority (83.4 percent in 2000) of Utahns work in their county of residence, an increasing number and share of workers cross county lines commuting to their jobs. From 1980 to 2000, the number of workers with jobs in their county of residence increased by 358,334 or 71.2 percent, from 503,169 to 861,503. The number of Utahns crossing county lines to work increased over the same period by 92,873 (118.3 percent) from 78,482 to 171,355. Out-of-county commuting accounted for one out of three (32.8 percent) of the new work commutes in Utah over the past two decades (excluding working at home). This has resulted in an increase in the county out-commuting rate at the state level. In 1980, 13.5 percent of Utah workers left their counties of residence to work. This increased to 15.2 percent in 1990 and 16.6 percent in 2000.

Out-commuting rates vary widely by county. Morgan County had the highest out-of-county commuting rate for all three decades (1980, 1990, and 2000) with 61.1 percent of the workers who live in Morgan County (or 1,951 of 3,168 workers) commuting outside Morgan to work in 2000. The out-commuting rate of Davis County workers for 2000 is 45.7 percent. Although Davis ranks second in the overall rate, the 59,509 residents working in other counties is the highest number of any county.

Salt Lake County has long been the center of employment in the state and consequently it is the county that receives the greatest number of inter-county commuters. On net, nearly 50,000 more commuters traveled to Salt Lake County than left it for work as reported in the 2000 Census. Twenty other counties had net out-commuting, while eight other counties had small net in-commuting.

Go to the following on-line address to view the study on Utah commuters in its entirety: