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Bay Area has most 'mega commuters' in nation

Original post made on Mar 6, 2013

Bay Area residents are more than four times more likely to be "mega commuters," according to a new report by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Read the full story here Web Link posted Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 8:51 AM

Comments (28)

Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 6, 2013 at 9:15 am

This is why we need more housing closer to job locations. Mega-commuters are the cause of regional traffic congestion and air pollution. Housing closer to jobs reduces traffic by a huge margin and is far cheaper than building new freeways.

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2013 at 9:24 am

The reason why we have so many mega commuters is that people want to live in houses with yards and also in communities which feel smaller than the urban sprawl which is the majority of the area between San Francisco to San Jose.

People don't mind commuting if it gives them the higher salaries in which to buy into the lifestyle of somewhere like Tracy or Morgan Hill.

The solution to mega communities is two fold. Some of the high tech businesses are going to move to Tracy and Morgan Hill, or we are going to need better transit.

BART and Caltrain do not offer decent transit for 50 mile commutes.

We need some high speed buses which are not connected to individual companies. We need to improve Caltrain in particular and we also need to enable the first/last mile to be covered efficiently.

People who are commuting 50 miles to enable them to have nice homes in Morgan Hill and Tracy are not going to want to live in rabbit hutches in downtown Palo Alto or Mountain View. They are just for the Yuppies.

Posted by resident
a resident of Downtown North
on Mar 6, 2013 at 10:37 am

The sold out condos in San Francisco prove that people will buy smaller homes if they are in interesting locations that are close to work. Morgan Hill or Tracy are fine if you are going to spend all your spare time in your own yard, but most people have bigger lives than that.

Posted by Steve C
a resident of Menlo Park
on Mar 6, 2013 at 10:46 am

Cost of housing has to b a part of this. You can live here, but you'll surrender a lot of your income to housing.

Posted by Reality
a resident of Gunn High School
on Mar 6, 2013 at 10:49 am

The problem with the dense-housing-near-jobs approach is that there is no evidence that the people who reside in that housing will be doing the nearby jobs.

Even if some start out that way, they don't stay that way. Few keep jobs for more than a few years nowadays, but many keep homes for longer than that.

So more dense housing, near jobs or not, really just means more people and more commuters.

The poster who predicts that the way out is a market driven shift to more jobs near the places people want to live has it right. I think.

We have a long way to go before mass transit is sufficiently effective to have a significant impact on this problem.

Posted by James Hall
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2013 at 11:17 am

Think of the accident probability...the study you cite indicates the "average" of a mega commute here involves people travelling for two hours at 83 miles an hour. Wow!

Posted by More-Data-Needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2013 at 11:37 am

> The sold out condos in San Francisco prove that people will buy
> smaller homes if they are in interesting locations that are
> close to work.

Before quoting a statistic like this one, it would pay to ascertain if the occupant of the dwelling unit is the owner of the dwelling unit. Historically, San Francisco has been 75% renter. The homre-of-record of the dwelling units is generally not known.

There are a lot of young people who like living in San Francisco, until they find that they can not grow up, get marrried and raise a family in a home with a yard in that city. So, they move on. Not really a good idea to compare Twenty-somethings with Forty-somethings.

Posted by Reality Check
a resident of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2013 at 12:03 pm

"The problem with the dense-housing-near-jobs approach is that there is no evidence that the people who reside in that housing will be doing the nearby jobs."

Hear, hear!

The reality is that people live where they like or can, and they work where they like or can. For example, a recent item in this forum revealed that half of PA's working population commutes out of town to work instead of walking/biking to the abundant employment opportunities here. The company town is a thing of the past.

Posted by Sunnyvale resident
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2013 at 12:43 pm

Really? So most people prefer to live in the city instead of having a home where your kids can play? Let me guess? You are single and are married to your career because you are one of those who have "bigger lives than that".

Posted by Resident
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2013 at 1:06 pm

Additionally, the study shows that the average mega commuter is married to a stay at home wife and lives in a 3 or 4 bedroom house.

I don't think stay at home moms want to live in the condos being built near our transit hubs or raise her kids there.

Posted by No place for children
a resident of Professorville
on Mar 6, 2013 at 1:50 pm

Urban neighborhoods, with their cramped housing and almost non - existent yards, are no place for a child to grow up ( unless you want an overweight and uncoordinated child who neversees the light of day). The crime rate is bad enough that the parks in urban areas are unsafe. Walking or bikeriding are unsafe for kids. Cities are fine for single adults, but they suck for families with children. Ver, very few people can afford a house of a decent size with a real back yard ion the Peninsula. Those that do sacrifice painfully, unless they are billionaires.

We used to commute from Castro Valley to San Jose, 95 mi round trip, so our kids could have good schools, a nice home and yard with actual play equipment, and good recreation nearby. But it really took its toll on us, the parents, and on our cars as well. My husband had a monstrous case of freeway burnout from 880 and 680 . Our kids hardly knew us, and we burned through gas, oil, and tires, the cars having to be replaced in just a cole of years. So when the kids became old enough to not need a large yard, we moved here. Yes, we pay a bundle on the house and taxes, but we save a bundle on cars, fuel, and sitters. We also save A WHOLE LOT OF TIME, as well as frayed nerves.

Posted by Love my Townhome!
a resident of Mountain View
on Mar 6, 2013 at 2:43 pm

Those of you who think families with kids need a yard are really missing a lot. Kids don't need a private yard, but they do need a place to play outside. We are a young family with two small children and we opted for a townhome with an awesome location (walking distance to downtown) but with a massive private playground, garden and pool for the kids. The complex has walking and bike paths, open spaces for the kids to play ball, lush landscaping with mature trees and is walking distance to 5 (yes 5!) public parks. The community here is wonderful. Many stay at home moms like me - we go outside and we have an instant playdate with the other families. After having what we have here, I could never imagine living in a single family home with a secluded, lonely yard only for us. And in this way we were able to afford to live on the peninsula with all the amenities. My husbands commute to work is only 10 min, no real traffic and it's been wonderful for his stress level. And, if he does lose his job, we're in a great location with many, many companies close so his next job would likely be close as well. I don't mean to put anyone living in a single family home down, but just realize it is possible for children to have a WONDERFUL childhood living in higher density housing if it's done right. It just depends on the complex and overall location.

Posted by Prop 13--Bad medicine.
a resident of South of Midtown
on Mar 6, 2013 at 2:43 pm

People in the Bay Area have to change jobs with some frequency. In fact, people all over the country have to change jobs with greater frequency today. In California, we have Prop 13, which incentivizes people NOT to move. Stupid. Stupid. Stupid.

This is just one of many BAD side effects of this regressive initiative.

Posted by Hated my townhouse
a resident of Old Palo Alto
on Mar 6, 2013 at 3:57 pm

When we lived in a townhouse nearby, it was awful. Exorbitant association fees made it just as costly as a single family dwelling. There was no playground or green area, just concrete. NO playgrounds were in walking distance, though a couple were within a short drive.

This is how MOST condos and town homes are, because most are somewhat small developments. New homes being built are three story, narrow homes on 2,000 sf lots...almost as bad as condos and townhomes. At least townhomes usually have a patio.

The house we have now is small, but more spacious than most townhomes and the lot is only 5,000 sf, but we are within walking distance of a park and biking distance of five more. There are some stay at home moms and some stay at home dads, but most are two-career families. However, there are LOTS and LOTS of child -friendly activities nearby that are open all day, six days a week.

Nine times out of ten, a house is better.

Posted by More-Data-Needed
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2013 at 5:23 pm

And then there is the Union troll who always manages to throw in an anti-Prop.13 barb. Prop.13 has nothing to do with this. All Prop.13 did is restrain the tax rates on property taxes. It did not keep State/Local governments from taxing the H#[email protected] out of every other thing that they could think of!!

Posted by Poster
a resident of Another Palo Alto neighborhood
on Mar 6, 2013 at 5:42 pm

People in the Bay Area change jobs a lot, and increasingly most people across the country seem to, as well, whether on their own initiative (better opportunity) or involuntarily (frequency of layoffs). The size and scope of the Bay Area allows for a lot of job options, but if you settle in one area - particularly with kids in school, etc. - and then switch jobs, you may be in for a mega commute even if you initially chose a home close to your work.

I could be wrong but my guess is that companies moving "further out" would probably only worsen this issue overall, due to broadening the geography of the job market.

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2013 at 6:32 pm

"The problem with the dense-housing-near-jobs approach is that there is no evidence that the people who reside in that housing will be doing the nearby jobs."

No there isn't, just like there is no guarantee that people living near transit will use it. However given that the housing will be built regardless somewhere, either far or near to job locations, shouldn't people be given that as an option?

Posted by absurbia
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2013 at 7:20 pm

The thing is, the whole transit-oriented development movement is just a political sleight-of-hand. You can stack&pack next to the train tracks and claim that you're being environmentally friendly, but most people aren't going to be able to get to work (or get their kids to school) on the 22.

Prop 13 is a factor, and I am not sure how that's a union issue. When I was growing up, not in California, people moved a lot. The national average is, as I recall, once every five years. That doesn't happen here because people don't want to quadruple their property taxes every few years. Instead, people remodel their homes and put up with whatever commute falls their way. I've worked in San Francisco and I've worked in Milpitas and points in between, all while staying in the same home. And my experience seems to be fairly typical. People can't afford to sell their houses just to shorten their commutes by a few minutes.

Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 6, 2013 at 9:08 pm

@absurbia The mover rate has been dropping for 50 years across the whole country, slightly more in California. But that was the goal, right? Stop forcing people out of their houses because of increased property taxes. Imagine the disruption here during the housing bubbles as houses were reassessed? The nice old lady next door would be long gone.

Public employee unions are the main opponent of Prop 13, and have been actively campaigning against it for years (e.g., prop 56 back in 2004). They want more tax revenue so they can get more money.

Posted by absurbia
a resident of Crescent Park
on Mar 6, 2013 at 9:41 pm

Actually, about 1 in 8 people moved last year. Web Link

The peak was around 1985 (not exactly 50 years ago) when 20% of the population moved in a year!

How odd to perceive that as people being forced out. Not at all. Used to be that if a family had another kid, they'd move to a bigger house. If the parents got better jobs, they'd move to a better neighborhood. Now, thanks to prop 13, our mobility is limited. That's one of the unintended consequences of prop 13.

A lot of people find prop 13 problematic because of the market distortions it has created. Prop 13 originally caused a huge bump in taxes because it directly contributed to massive housing price increases. Removing prop 13 might result in price drops -> lower prop tax revenues. Though that is all speculative because it's never going to happen.

Posted by Robert
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2013 at 10:44 pm


Actually from what I've seen, the main opponents of Prop 13 are young people who, for some strange reason, find it unfair that they would have to pay more in property taxes on a starter house than someone living in a mansion in the same neighborhood.

That is, if they can actually afford to buy into the market anywhere here (another consequence of housing supply not keeping up with demand).

Posted by Morgan Hill Commuter
a resident of another community
on Mar 6, 2013 at 11:00 pm

Not sure why, in above posts, Morgan Hill is considered a mega-commute along with Tracy. My commute from Morgan Hill to San Jose is 23 miles (slightly less than a half hour). Palo Alto to San Jose is around 17 miles. I don't think an extra 5 miles can really be termed a mega-commute. So the larger house/yard, for those who think it is important, is achievable without the mega-commute!

As an aside, Tracy is about 60 miles away.

Posted by Vouvray
a resident of Meadow Park
on Mar 7, 2013 at 2:41 pm

Have you ever actually LIVED near a transit hub? It is a miserable life when you are home. For twelve years I did not see my house in the daylight because I purposely stayed away as long as I could. Why? The homes there were grimy from the smog, there were always fumes in the air, tho less so at night, and air conditioning did not completely remove them. There was noise, noise, noise 20 hours a day during the week, which meant only a couple of hours of undistubed sleep. Try to watch a DVD with that noise when a train or bus goes by...the sound-dampening insulation did not work all that well. My son also fell asleep inappropriately at school due to frequent sleep interruption. The view was ugly and depressing: concrete, concrete, concrete, and steel.

Last of all, due to the location, it took three years to sell the house, because no one REALLY wants to live near a transit hub. The house was expensive to buy, and it took far too long to build up equity because its value rose so slowly....because it was near an unappealing transit hub. When we finally sold it, I felt like I had been raped, because we practically gave it away.

I would never in a million years want to relive a prison sentence like that!

Posted by Mr.Recycle
a resident of Duveneck/St. Francis
on Mar 7, 2013 at 9:17 pm

@absurbia - I was looking at the exact same data, but I think you are reading the graph incorrectly. The 1985 peak was in terms of absolute movers, but that doesn't account for population growth. If you look at the mover rate, the highest rate was in the 50's. 21.2% in 1950 is the highest recorded rate.

Posted by Garrett
a resident of another community
on Mar 8, 2013 at 8:42 am

Now I don't understand why someone would chose to commute such long distances, but I would find the burden tough on their families.

The reason for their long commutes might be the cost of buying a home in the area, not the right place or NIMBY. Maybe it is just plain financial?

One thing I know it will costs lots of taxpayer funds to build, operate and maintain mass transit to these outlaying communities of commuters.

Posted by TS
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Mar 8, 2013 at 12:31 pm

Proposition 13 is a state wide intitative - addressing it specific to the bay area does not make sense. All comments are relative to age, family status, and employment circumstances. Most younger people without children live in the city where they have a certain lifestyle. When they marry and have children that lifestyle is taken over by other priorities. In Palo Alto we have an excellent school system, as does Cupertino, Los Altos and other cities so the school system rating becomes a higher priority. We also have good sport support for AYSO, Little League, and other sport activites orgainzed for after school. Then there is the current mortgage problem where a lot of homes are under water and people cannot move until that problem is resolved. The outside driven financial circumstances limit the choices. A lot of state and federal agencies are moving to central California locations because the younger employees live in those locations. As buildings age companies make choices as to upgrading a current building that has written off the depresiation factor or moving to a newer building in a county with lower taxes. Many businesses are leaving downtown SF for newer facilites in the outer areas. And the young people can then afford to live near their businesses. Companies make a lot of decisions that drive where people live and people then make decisions as to what the trade-ofs are relative to their personal circumstances. Then there are statistics which could be construed in any direction possible to make a case, and newspaper leading statements which are trying to preset the point of the editorial take on the problem - possibly a slant promoting a point of view for developers.

Posted by Guilty Commuter
a resident of another community
on Mar 9, 2013 at 7:16 am

Yes, I must confess. I too am one of those "mega commuters".
And everyone that I meet in Santa Clara County believes it is fine.
So no worries here. Although I feel guilty about it, I must do it to afford my family a better life. I make up for my carbon footprint by not owning another car and I have not flown anywhere in the last 10 years. So although I do a "mega commute", my carbon footprint is most likely much smaller than anyone who lives or works in Palo Alto. Is anyone up for the carbon footprint challenge?

Posted by musical
a resident of Palo Verde
on Mar 9, 2013 at 2:19 pm

@Guilty Commuter, how would you compare the carbon footprint of someone who brings a child into this world, vs a childless person? One carbon footprint is finite, the other potentially infinite. How far you commute is meaningless.

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