The average American commute was a little more than 27 minutes each way in 2018, according to Census Bureau data. And the government has estimated almost 3% of workers, or about 4 million people, are "supercommuters" who travel 90 minutes or more to work.
David Pike, owner of The New York Trolley Company, used to be one of these people.
"I would take a shuttle bus to the PATH station in Jersey City," Pike tells Grow. "I'd take a PATH train over to Manhattan. In Manhattan I'd catch a subway over to Brooklyn. And in Brooklyn, I'd either take a bus or I'd walk the 20 minutes to where my trolleys are parked."
As Pike got tired of chasing buses, he decided there had to be another way. So he bought a jet ski.
"I'm just a regular guy who was fed up with his commute and found a better way to get to work," Pike says.
Video by Jason Armesto
The unusual strategy saves Pike both time and money.
Although his home in Port Liberte section of Jersey City and his office in Red Hook, Brooklyn, are only about 2.8 miles (and 2.4 nautical miles) apart, Pike's old commute took a whopping 90 minutes each way. Now his commute via jet ski takes as little as 7 minutes from dock to dock, and about 15 minutes total.
Pike spent $1,000 on a used 1996 Yamaha jet ski on eBay. (Sea-Doo later gifted Pike a new jet ski, after word of his unique commute spread.) Even factoring in his start-up costs, he's saving money. Pike estimates that his old commute, which entailed three different fares each way, cost $85 per week. Now the main expense is about $30 per week for gas, since he's able to dock at both points for free.
Commuting via jet ski, sadly, isn't an option for most workers. Here are three more common ways you can save time and money on your way to work.
Money savings: The costs of commuting by bike are almost entirely upfront, so long as you live within cycling distance of work. Maintenance is minimal, and the only fuel is whatever you ate for breakfast. All told, you could spend as little as $400 on a basic setup: $250 for a used bike on Craigslist, $50 for a helmet, $40 each for a basket and chain lock, and $20 for a pair of cheap lights if you plan on riding at night. To compare, a monthly unlimited MetroCard in New York costs $127. If you commuted by bike daily in the city, you'd break even after roughly three months.
Even using a public bike share can still be cheaper. An annual membership with New York's Citi Bike costs $169, or about $14 per month. That's only about 11% of the cost of a monthly MetroCard. Depending on distance and terrain, your commute might also serve as a decent workout, possibly even enough to make you reconsider your gym membership.
Time savings: Whether a bike commute saves you any time depends on the quality of your city's bike infrastructure. On a typical day, my bike commute from my apartment in Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to midtown Manhattan takes about an hour, while the same trip on the subway could save me 20 minutes.
Based on factors including safety and accessibility, these are the country's best bike cities, according a 2018 Bicycling magazine report:
- Seattle, WA
- San Francisco, CA
- Fort Collins, CO
- Minneapolis, MN
- Portland, OR
- Chicago, IL
- Eugene, OR
- Madison, WI
- New York, NY
- Cambridge, MA
It's common for companies to offer employees access to commuter benefit programs, which let you use pretax dollars out of your paycheck to cover commuting costs like public transit passes, parking fees, and even ride-sharing like UberPool. In 2019, the IRS-set limit is $265 per month.
Let's say you commute into Philadelphia. If you live in the city, the $96 cost of a monthly SEPTA Key fits well within that limit. Even if you're commuting in from a South Jersey suburb like Pennsauken or Cherry Hill, the pre-tax benefit would cover the SEPTA pass and $126 in monthly NJ Transit fares.
But how much can pretax commuter benefits actually save you? Say you earn $60,000 a year, which puts you in the 15% federal tax bracket. If you have an expensive commute and set aside $265 in pretax dollars each month, you'll save $40 each month, according to a calculator from benefits administrator WageWorks. Over the course of a year, your savings add up to $477.
About 3 in 4 Americans drive to work alone, according to Census data. But just because you have to use a car to get to work doesn't mean it has to be your car every day. Currently, about 9% of workers nationwide participate in some kind of carpooling arrangement, according to the 2017 American Community Survey.
Money savings: If you carpool with just one other person and either have them chip in, or switch cars and drivers every day, you'll save 50% on expenses like gas and tolls. Those savings increase as you add more coworkers to the pool. There can be other savings for carpooling, too. The rush hour carpool rate on the San Francisco Bay Bridge is $2.50 traveling west into San Francisco, versus $7 to cross as a solo driver.
Time savings: Whether you save any time largely depends on how far you and the rest of your carpool live from each other. But highways in some cities encourage carpooling with dedicated lanes, which ideally allow you to glide past the far greater number of single-occupancy cars sitting in gridlock in the neighboring lanes.
That could help you get to work, and back home, faster.
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