By Robert Polner
April 13, 2012
If you thought your commute was too long, you might feel better after hearing about the “super-commuter,” which represents a rising segment of the workforce, according to a February report from the Rudin Center for Transportation.
The report, “The Emergence of the Super-Commuter,” by Mitchell Moss, the Henry Hart Professor of Urban Policy and Planning at the Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and the director of the Rudin Center, and Carson Qing, a research fellow at Rudin, defines a super-commuter as someone who lives outside the combined metropolitan area of a city, yet works in the core county of that metropolitan area. These individuals usually travel at least 90 miles to get to work using a variety of transportation modes, though not necessarily on a daily basis. Using the U.S. Census and its OnTheMap tool, the report tracks these trends in the nation’s 10 largest metropolitan areas, but leaves out Washington, D.C., on which data was not available.
The increasing numbers of long-distance super-commuters reflect the changing structure of the workplace, shaped by broadband Internet access, home-based computer systems that rival those of the office, and mobile communications systems. The super-commuter is most typically in his or her twenties, highly skilled, and well-positioned to take advantage of higher salaries in one region and lower housing costs in another—the exurbs, or even more distant locales. The super-commuter may travel once or twice per week, or even per month, for work purposes.
“Many workers,” write Moss and Qing, “are not expected to physically appear in a single office at all. The global economy has made it possible for highly skilled workers to be employed on a strictly virtual basis, acquiring clients anywhere and communicating via e-mail, phone, and video conference.”
To be sure, super-commuters remain a sliver of all commuters in the nation’s major metropolitan areas, ranging from 3–13 percent of the workforce, depending on the city. But their numbers have as much as doubled or even tripled in the past decade along some emerging “super-commuting corridors” that the study identifies.
As a result, cities situated hundreds of miles apart are increasingly sharing commuter and labor sheds, and have become more integrated in social and economic terms. The report identifies super-commuting as a growing trend that urban planners and policymakers will increasingly need to reckon with.