Chicago driving commutes among costliest in US

A new study found that Chicago commuters lose over $8,000 in wages each year sitting in traffic during their drive to and from work.

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Cars travel along the inbound lane of the Kennedy Expressway near the Montrose Avenue exit as a train passes by while left lanes are closed for construction.

A study found Chicago commuters lose over $8,000 in wages a year from their drive to work.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times file

Chicago commuters lose over $8,000 in wages each year thanks to time spent in traffic, according to a new study analyzing expensive commutes nationwide.

Of the 170 U.S. cities studied, Chicago ranks 19th for the most expensive commute for drivers and ninth for the longest round-trip commute. The study, from the business website Chamber of Commerce, found that the nationwide average for wage loss from commuting is over $5,700 each year.

The study also determined that the average round-trip commute in Chicago is one hour and four minutes; the daily commuting cost is $32; and the median full-time worker salary in the city is $62,010. The total yearly commuting cost is $8,319.68 for Chicagoans driving to and from work.

To calculate the money lost, the study compared the average commute time in each city with the median income for full-time, year-round workers.

As a working mom of three teenagers, Diana Razo-Jimenez said she doesn’t mind her commute and driving has saved her time and money. She works for the city of Chicago and receives discounted parking at a garage on Randolph Street and Wabash Avenue in the Loop.

Razo-Jimenez spends $2,000 a year on parking alone. But she did the math and realized it’s cheaper than taking Metra’s South Shore Line from her home in the southeast suburbs, which would cost her $240 a month.

“I need to be able to access my car, so to me, it’s worth it to drive,” Razo-Jimenez said. “The convenience of being able to drive because I’m a mother is pretty significant. I have a lot of colleagues who drive because they’re parents, working parents.”

The $8,000-a-year figure sounded overreported to her. Chicago is a more accessible city financially compared to places like New York City and Washington, D.C., Razo-Jimenez said.

In the study, Washington, D.C., came in third place for the costliest commute, at over $11,000, and New York City was fifth, at about $10,800.

The trade-off, she said, is the length of her commute. She averages over an hour each way. But that time to herself in the car provides its own benefits.

“There’s a psychological benefit to commuting. I can make calls, and then I’m able to leave work at work once I get home,” Razo-Jimenez said.

Joe Schwieterman, a DePaul University professor who specializes in transit and urban planning, said the study shows the benefits for some people of working from home.

“It’s going to be hard to put the genie back in the bottle for a lot of workers who now view it as a cornerstone to their lifestyle,” he said.

Schwieterman said the study neglects some of the positives of a commute, such as providing workers space between their lives at work and at home.

“Sitting in your car, you’re playing your music, you’re making phone calls, you’re chilling out, at least for the first 20 minutes. It’s much more pleasant than being at work, and you can forget about work,” Schwieterman said. “But after 30 or 40 minutes, commutes get very emotionally exhausting, particularly when driving.”

The only other Illinois city included in the study was Aurora, which came in 57th place. Commuters there lose about $5,700 in wages each year.

Chamber of Commerce also looked at how female commuters, who already tend to make less than their male counterparts, lose even more in wages while driving to and from the office.

In Chicago, women lose over $9,500 a year from their commute, and the nationwide average is over $6,300, according to the study. Chicago ranked 15th for the most expensive commute for women.

East Coast and West Coast cities dominated the top 10 spots in the study’s findings. San Francisco topped the list with a total wage loss of $12,650.66 for commuters each year.

Given how the study calculated wages lost, Schwieterman said cities on the coasts fared poorly because they have more high-income workers stuck in traffic.

A study published earlier this year found that traffic congestion in Chicago was the worst nationwide in 2022, and drivers in the city lost more hours waiting in traffic last year than their counterparts in any other city in the U.S.

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