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Get used to long commute times, Tampa Bay

More people are spending more time getting to work.
Interstate 275 in Pinellas County.
Interstate 275 in Pinellas County.
Published Oct. 1, 2019
Updated Oct. 1, 2019

Click here to read this column in Spanish.

You’re not going crazy if you feel like your trip to work keeps getting longer.

Ten years ago, about 1 in 7 Tampa Bay area workers spent more than 45 minutes commuting to work. Now it’s approaching 1 in 5, according to U.S. Census data released last week.

Pity the 117,000 Tampa Bay workers who spend at least an hour getting to work and then have to do it again going home.

Most commuters still spend less than 30 minutes getting to work, but the numbers are trending in the wrong direction. In 2010, it was 63 percent. Now, it’s less than 56 percent.

Another way to think about it: Tampa Bay’s workforce spends more than 1.2 million hours commuting each day, about 30 percent more than 10 years ago.

RELATED STORY: Energy efficiency employs far more Floridians than alternative energy.

More people are living farther away from the main business hubs in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties than they did 10 years ago, which can increase commute times. The Tampa Bay area also keeps growing, which means more vehicles clogging already busy roads.

Most commuters travel by car or truck — alone. Solo vehicle commutes are by far the most popular way to get to work, accounting for nearly 4 out of 5 trips in the Tampa Bay area. The number has increased since the Great Recession and remains higher than the national average.

Carpooling is the No. 2 option, making up about 9 percent of commutes, down from 10 years ago. Most are two-person carpools. Only a fraction involve four or more people.

Walking stayed about the same, making up about 1.4 percent of daily trips to work. Walkers tended to be the youngest group of commuters, with an average age of under 34.

The number of people cycling to work has fallen since 2010, when about 1 in every 150 commutes was by bicycle. Now it’s 1 in every 200. An improving economy — more people can afford cars — plays a role. It doesn’t help that the area has a reputation for killing too many cyclists.

Tampa Bay has one of the worst public transit systems in the country, which helps explain why so few people ride a bus, streetcar or ferry to get to their jobs. In fact, the 20,482 people who consistently walk to work each day outnumber the 18,994 who take public transit, according to the Census data.

The numbers are within the margin of error and the transit numbers don’t include people who take taxis to work. Still, Tampa Bay stands out for treating public transit like an afterthought. Nationwide, about 5 percent of commuters use public transit. Here, it’s 1.3 percent.

The rising star among commuting options in the Tampa Bay area is not to commute at all. In 2010, 60,000 people worked from home. The number has now reached nearly 105,000, or about 1 out of every 14 local workers. That’s higher than the Florida average and much higher than the nation.

Workers in their 50s and early 60s are more likely to work from home than those in their 20s. For some, it’s a perk that keeps them from retiring. Workers who stay at home are also much more likely to be white, and slightly more likely to be women.

As Tampa Bay’s population swells, encouraging more people to work from home will be one way to mitigate traffic congestion. Even so, it’s a good bet that many workers will spend more time commuting.

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