More Texans Make Super-Sized Commutes

Two new terms – “super-commuter” and “megalopolitan” – are entering the vernacular of city planners and policymakers within the Texas Triangle and throughout the state. And while you may not know what they mean, you just might both be one and live within one.

In a recent study conducted by Mitchell L. Moss, of New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation, a “super-commuter” was defined as any individual who lives beyond the census-defined Combined Statistical Area (CSA) of their workplace. In layman’s terms, that means someone who has one heck of a commute. Super-commuters typically travel once or twice weekly for work and cover long distances by plane, train, bus, car or any combination of above. These individuals also tend to be young (under 29), and aren’t necessarily elite business travelers. Rather, they’re more representative of middle-income employees who may opt for more affordable housing in distant communities from their place of work. As a growing part of the workforce, super-commuters are able to take advantage of higher employment opportunities in one region and lower housing costs in another.

The super commuter has come to rise as a result of technological advances over the past years in broadband, mobile communications, and teleconferencing. These innovations have made physical location and geographic proximity less relevant.

Another main factor bringing about the rise in super-commuting has come from the increased interconnectivity and the expansion of city labor pools in 21st century American cities, turning them into “megalopolitans.” Now more than ever, cities are highly connected by a vast intercity transport infrastructure consisting of short flights, superhighways, long distance busses, and passenger rail. Ever-expanding city labor pools is evidence of how economic geography has evolved in the information age, as American cities being to share workforces as well as social and economic activities. This trend – which we see here in Texas with the Texas Triangle and around the country with the Arizona Sun Corridor and the Research Triangle in North Carolina -- will put a higher premium on mega-regional planning to meet transportation needs.

Top 5 U.S. Counties for Super-commuting, 2009

1) Harris Co. (Houston), TX 251,000 workers; 13.2% of workforce
2) Dallas, TX 176,000 workers; 13.2% of workforce

3) Maricopa Co. (Phoenix), AZ 131,000 workers; 8.6% of workforce
4) Fulton Co. (Atlanta), GA 47,700 workers; 7.5% of workforce
5) Philadelphia, PA 42,100 workers; 7.3% of workforce

As of 2009, super-commuters accounted for the greatest percent of the workforce in both Dallas and Harris (Houston) counties in Texas at approximately 13 percent.

Top 5 Super-commutes Among Major U.S. Cities, 2009

1) Tucson to Phoenix, AZ 3.6% of workforce (54,400 total)
2) Houston to Dallas, TX 3.3% (44,300 total)
3) Dallas-Fort Worth to Houston, TX 2.7% (51,900 total)
4) Austin to Dallas, TX 2.4% (32,400 total)
5) San Diego to Los Angeles, CA 2.2% (78,300 total)

Dallas-Ft. Worth to Houston (Harris Co.) super-commuters have more than tripled since 2002; Austin and San Antonio to Houston super-commuters have both more than doubled.

Source: “The Emergence of the Super-Commuter,” Moss, Mitchell L. and Carson Qing, New York University Rudin Center for Transportation, Wagner School of Public Service.

For more information, see the full NYU study.