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90 minutes or more to get to work? It's becoming more common, even in Iowa

Inefficient public transit cited as factor in increase in 'super commuters'

A 380 Express bus sits at the Court Street Transportation Center in Iowa City on Nov. 14, 2018. The bus takes 58 minutes from the first stop in Cedar Rapids to the last stop in Iowa City, and 53 minutes from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids. That’s well short of a “super commute,” which is a commute lasting 90 minutes or longer. The number of such commuters is on the rise nationwide and locally, though they still represent just a fraction of the workforce in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. (The Gazette)
A 380 Express bus sits at the Court Street Transportation Center in Iowa City on Nov. 14, 2018. The bus takes 58 minutes from the first stop in Cedar Rapids to the last stop in Iowa City, and 53 minutes from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids. That’s well short of a “super commute,” which is a commute lasting 90 minutes or longer. The number of such commuters is on the rise nationwide and locally, though they still represent just a fraction of the workforce in Cedar Rapids and Iowa City. (The Gazette)

CEDAR RAPIDS — They are called “super commuters,” and their numbers are growing.

The concept applies to those spending at least 90 minutes each way commuting to work. Traditional motorists driving to work are the primary example, but there is a small but quickly growing segment of public transit users often cramped by inefficient transit systems, said Chris Salviati, a housing economist for San Francisco-based Apartment List, which recently analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data on commuting patterns.

“Nationally, we are seeing a really big increase in super commuters,” Salviati said in a phone interview. “We see a little of that in the Cedar Rapids metro, but it is less pronounced.”

From 2005 to 2017, the number of super commuters grew 32 percent, while those commuting less than 90 minutes grew only 9 percent, according to the group’s report about the trends. The most substantial increases are tied to large coastal metropolises, such as San Francisco and New York City.

In Eastern Iowa, the numbers also are on the rise.

The Cedar Rapids area saw a 14 percent increase in super commuters from 2009 to 2017, compared to a 6 percent increase for commutes of less than 90 minutes. Despite the increases, only 1.2 percent of the workforce are super commuters, according to the data.

The Johnson County area saw even less of an increase, according to the data. From 2009 to 2017, the number of super commuters in the Iowa City metro grew 4.4 percent compared to a 13.4 percent increase for those with shorter commutes. The total population of super commuters is only about 0.8 percent of the workforce.

Nationwide, about 90 percent of the workforce commutes by private vehicle, while slightly less than 10 percent commute by transit, Salviati said. About two-thirds of the super commuter population are motorists, but the share of transit users spending at least an hour and a half on a bus has grown 14 percent, compared to a 3 percent increase for those traveling in private vehicles.

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Salviati points to insufficient housing availability in urban centers forcing people to live in distant suburbs and deficiencies in the public transit network, such as a lack of options, as factors.

The Cedar Rapids-Iowa City corridor features Cedar Rapids Transit serving Cedar Rapids and parts of Marion and Hiawatha. Johnson County features transit services in Iowa City and Coralville, which also serves North Liberty. The University of Iowa also offers the free Cambus.

Additionally, the 380 Express bus recently was launched to bridge the gap between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids. The bus takes 58 minutes from the first stop in Cedar Rapids to the last stop in Iowa City, and 53 minutes from Iowa City to Cedar Rapids.

A light rail between Iowa City and Cedar Rapids has long been discussed and advocated by some, but studies have predicted too heavy of an investment to make it feasible.

Brad DeBrower, transit manager for Cedar Rapids Transit, said it should take less than one hour to get from one end of Cedar Rapids to the other.

“We try to design our bus routes to be as linear as possible so a passenger can catch a bus in either direction to shorten their ride time,” DeBrower said. “That’s not possible in all cases, so some routes are loops to provide more geographic coverage, such as the circulators on the northeast side and in Marion.”

Comments: (319) 398-8310; brian.morelli@thegazette.com

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