Here's how much return to the office commutes will cost you in these cities

Commutes are a major part of work life for millions of Americans.

Before the pandemic shifted many white-collar workers to work from home, full-time employees were spending nearly an hour a day on average commuting to their workplace. If that time was spent working (from home) rather than in transit, it would boost the average worker’s income by $5,679 a year on average, according to a recent LendingTree report.

The online lending company analyzed data of average commute times in America’s 100 largest cities and median earnings for full-time workers from the U.S. Census Bureau to determine the opportunity cost of commuting.

LendingTree’s opportunity cost calculations are conservative given that they don’t include the additional commuting costs of public transportation, vehicle depreciation, gas, vehicle maintenance, parking fees, and tolls. (Not to mention the precious time workers get back from not being in transit twice a day.)

Costs associated with commuting are part of what’s fueling workers’ preference for long-term remote work. “A lot of people are saying to themselves, ‘well, all I do at the office is sit and look at the computer. The only conversation I have with any of my coworkers are grunts over the coffee machine in the break room’,” Jacob Channel, LendingTree’s senior economic analyst, told Yahoo Finance. “So why can’t I stay home?”

Top 10 cities with costliest commutes

LendingTree found that eight of the 10 costliest commutes in the U.S. are in cities with the highest median earnings: Fremont, Calif., with median earnings of $95,221, Irvine, Calif., at $90,979, and San Francisco at $90,475.

The cities with the longest commutes and highest opportunity costs are Fremont ($15,065), San Francisco ($13,067), and Jersey City, N.J. ($10,645).

Drivers in six U.S. cities face an average of more than $10,000 a year in opportunity costs because of their commutes.

“If [workers] are required to go back to the office, a lot of people are going to say, ‘OK, well, I want to live closer, maybe a five-minute drive as opposed to a 20-minute drive, maybe a quick walk across the street,” said Channel. “The problem is...that’s impossible. You could be making $150,000 a year in San Francisco, for example, and still not be able to afford to live anywhere near where you work.”

The majority of cities with the shortest commute and lowest opportunity cost are in the South and Midwest, according to LendingTree's analysis.

Having to deal with – and pay for – commuting again may compel workers to ask for a raise if required to return to the office, says Channel.

“As people have grown accustomed to not having to [commute] they might go to their employers and say, look, if you want me to start commuting again, you’re going to have to start paying me for it,” said Channel.

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