Census Bureau data tells the story: while room for improvement in many ways, L.A. County has typical commutes when compared to U.S.

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The U.S. Census Bureau released some new data sets yesterday, although some of the numbers have been around for a while or will be familiar to some readers.

I don’t think there’s anything shocking about the number of people driving into Los Angeles County to work — not exactly surprising to anyone who has been on an area freeway at 8 a.m. But it’s certainly very interesting to see that our region was ranked fifth in terms of long-distance commuters. The Bay Area ranked first followed by three other areas: New York, Washington D.C. and Trenton. The top four all have robust transit networks.

The Bay Area, in particular, certainly has its share of transit — buses, streetcars, light rail, subway (BART) and commuter rail (Caltrain). But it’s also sprawled relentlessly due in part to an expensive housing market and many people are driving into San Francisco, the East Bay and San Jose from distant suburbs in the San Joaquin Valley. I feel like the city/county of San Francisco has parallels to our Westside: lots of jobs, not nearly enough housing.

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As for the numbers for our region, I think they argue for better transit connections between Orange County and Los Angeles County. I’m not sure the numbers on long-distance commuting are anything San Bernardino or Riverside counties should be proud of — they’ve basically created one-dimensional bedroom communities without the more of quality jobs people need.

Perhaps something to think about before rubber stamping the next distant subdivision, Inland Empire? Those homes impact roads many miles away, of course — something I doubt gets much consideration.

Here is how our numbers on percent driving alone and commuting time compare to other counties or parts of cities:

Manhattan (New York City): 6.6 percent drive alone to work, 30.4 minute average commute.

Washington D.C.: 33.1 percent drive alone, 30.1 minute average.

San Francisco: 37.6 percent drive alone, 29.6 minutes

Philadelphia: 50 percent drive alone, 26.2 minutes

Cook County (Chicago): 62.2 percent drive alone, 31.9 minutes

King County (Seattle): 67 percent, 26.5 minutes

Denver County: 70.4 percent, 24.1 minutes

Fulton County (Atlanta): 73.4 percent, 26.2 minutes

Harris County (Houston): 80 percent, 26.8 minutes

Below is the Census Bureau release on L.A. County and here’s a link to many other Census Bureau news releases on commuting and data:

Los Angeles County, Calif., has among the highest number of commuters coming from another county in the nation, the U.S. Census Bureau reported today in new estimates released from the American Community Survey. Nationally, 27.4 percent of workers commute outside the county where they live.

Among workers in Los Angeles County, 471,345 live outside the county, according to 2006-2010 estimates from the American Community Survey. For example, 178,681 workers commute in from Orange County, 126,642 from San Bernardino County and 66,832 from Ventura County.

Meanwhile, 335,676 residents of Los Angeles County leave the county for work, with 181,744 going to Orange County (which was not significantly different from the number of workers coming in from the county), 57,390 to San Bernardino County and 36,602 to Ventura County.

“It is well known that Los Angeles County draws a lot of commuters to work. The detailed information in the American Community Survey tells us where Los Angeles County workers are coming from, where its residents work, and how its commuting patterns compare to those of other large counties,” said Brian McKenzie, a Census Bureau statistician who studies commuting. “This information shapes our understanding of the boundaries of local and regional economies, as people and goods move across the nation’s transportation networks.”

The American Community Survey also provides annual estimates about how commuters in Los Angeles County travel to work and how long it takes them to get there.

Means of Transportation

  • In 2011, 72.3 percent of workers in Los Angeles County drove to work alone, compared with 76.4 percent nationally.
  • Meanwhile, 10.5 percent of Los Angeles County workers carpooled in 2011, while 9.7 percent in the nation carpooled to work.
  • In 2011, 7.3 percent of all workers in Los Angeles County used public transportation — excluding taxicab — to get to their job, compared with 5.0 percent in the nation as a whole.
  • About 0.8 percent of all workers in the county biked to work in 2011, compared with 0.6 percent nationally.

Travel Time to Work

  • In 2011, the average one-way commute to work for people living in Los Angeles County was 29.4 minutes. The average commute nationally was 25.5 minutes.
  • About 11.9 percent of all workers had a commute of 60 minutes or more in 2011, compared with 8.1 percent in the nation as a whole.

View more commuting statistics for Los Angeles County online:


The American Community Survey provides a wide range of important statistics about people and housing for every community across the nation. The results are used by everyone from town and city planners to retailers and homebuilders. The survey is the only source of local estimates for most of the 40 topics it covers, such as education, occupation, language, ancestry and housing costs for even the smallest communities. Ever since Thomas Jefferson directed the first census in 1790, the census has collected detailed characteristics about our nation’s people. Questions about jobs and the economy were added 20 years later under James Madison, who said such information would allow Congress to “adapt the public measures to the particular circumstances of the community,” and over the decades, allow America “an opportunity of marking the progress of the society.”

4 replies

  1. Uh, no, it is not that those other cities have robust public transit that helps those use transit to get to work, but it is that those cities have ONE really big employment center, unlike LA where downtown is NOT “it” when it comes to large employment centers in LA County that include Beverly Hills, Century City, Westwood, Santa Monica, Pasadena, Glendale, Burbank, and on and on. Then factor in OC’s employment centers and you see how public transit to work and back becomes like a whack-a-mole or trying to herd cats.
    I can’t tell you how many people desperately want to use Metro or Metrolink fro their commute, but they don’t work in downtown LA and Metrolink’s service to other employment centers is less attractive.
    I think we need to think regionally and really focus on downtown LA as the employment center so that existing Metrolink can serve the commute, but too many cities are in the competition for getting companies to set up offices in their municipality, and the cost is the every which way LA commuting nightmare. Try commuting from Diamond Bar to Costa Mesa, for example. UUGGH!
    Finally, changing the notion of the American Dream being a single family detached home with a garage and 2,600 sq. ft. minimum with good schools is almost impossible to alter. I suppose if we adopted a more Scandanavian value system . . . but this is America, the land of BIG cars, BIG homes, and BIG consumption. So, we are destined to move farther out form our jobs, so let’s make the destination downtown LA that can handle the increase in train commutes with a subway to connect to for the last leg to the office.

  2. And in places where there are new condos in LA, it’s all in the $400,000 price range or more that no middle class can afford or put a down payment on.

    Compare paying for a $400,000 two bedroom condo in LA to a $200,000 big family home out in neighboring counties, guess what people are going to do? Commute.

    Condo living has to be affordable and attractive if we’re ever going to fix the housing problem in LA. Unfortunately no politicians left or right has the balls to do it because home owners with rising property values are their major election source.

    Too much demand, too little supply. Anyone who has taken Econ 101 in college can figure this out. No brainer.

  3. Is this a surprise? I said the same thing: there’s not enough housing within LA.