COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Of all the metro areas in the United States, Columbus takes the No. 6 spot when it comes to commuting.

An analysis from Clever Real Estate positioned Ohio’s capital city as the sixth-best metro area in the country for commuters, as the 82% of Columbus residents who drive to work spend less of their annual income on commuting costs while enjoying a quicker commute than the average U.S. resident.

Using data from the country’s 50 most populous metro areas, the Clever Real Estate study based its rankings on a handful of factors, including the annual fuel and vehicle maintenance costs, hours lost to traffic, and the distance of the commute.

“I was a little surprised, but I think that Columbus has been working and working to improve,” Patty Olmsted, senior business outreach coordinator for the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, said.

How much do Columbus residents spend on their commute each year?

Columbus commuters spend about 16% of their annual income, or $6,602, on commuting – whether that be toward maintenance costs, insurance premiums, or filling up the tank. 

The average U.S. commuter, on the other hand, spends about 19% of their annual income, or $8,466, on driving to work each year, about 28% more than what a Columbus commuter spends.

Time to Work (minutes)Annual Hours Lost to Traffic% of Income Spent on CommutingAnnual Cost of Commute
National Average283219%$8,466
Data provided by Clever Real Estate

Not only do Columbus residents dish out less of their paychecks toward commuting, but they also enjoy faster arrival times to work.

The 24-minute one-way commute for Columbus residents is about 15% quicker than the 28-minute commute for the average U.S. worker, the Clever study found.

Leading the rankings is Buffalo, New York, where the average commute is 22 minutes, followed by Salt Lake City; Milwaukee; Virginia Beach, Virginia; and Cleveland.

As for the cities least ideal for commuters, the Clever study clocked Detroit as No. 1 – where drivers spend 29% of their annual income on commuting costs – followed by Atlanta; New York; Riverside, California; and Los Angeles.

What about bicyclists? Public transit passengers?

Harvey Miller, director of Ohio State University’s Center for Urban and Regional Analysis, said the Clever Real Estate study doesn’t paint the whole picture of commuting in Columbus.

While most Columbus residents – or 82% of the city’s population, according to SMART Columbus – drive a single-occupant vehicle to work, Miller said the Clever analysis neglects bicyclists, pedestrians, and those who opt for public transit as their ride to work.

“How fast or the miles per hour you can travel and how much gas costs – it’s really only measuring the convenience for drivers, and that’s not a full depiction of commuting,” Miller said.

A single traffic crash on I-71 or State Route 315 can shut down an entire corridor for more than an hour, Miller said, constituting a “brittle” car-dominated system that’s not built to respond to accidents.

Pointing to reports of a car that crashed into a Short North business on Sunday, Miller said the “epidemic of crashes” on Columbus’ streets disproportionately harms vulnerable pedestrians and low-income people of color who are less likely to own a vehicle.

“What we need is a more resilient system that can handle shocks like that, or if the freeway floods, people are going to need a wider array of choices around town,” he said.

How can Ohio make commutes even simpler?

While Miller expressed concern about the ability of the city’s roads and highways to accommodate an additional 1 million residents projected to move to Columbus by 2050, he and Olmsted pointed to programs that have made a dent – and continue to improve – the state of mobility in Ohio.

Miller praised LinkUS, a “well-thought-out,” multi-pronged initiative he said will ease the city’s reliance on cars by proposing the installation of high-quality rapid transit lines, wider sidewalks, and increasing the visibility of crosswalks.

“It can really help to give people choices besides driving around town,” he said.

As thousands of Ohioans transitioned to remote work over the course of the pandemic, Olmsted said companies moving back to an in-person work environment amid “the Great Resignation” are increasingly looking for creative ways to attract and recruit workers. 

One way to do that, she said, is by easing employees’ commuting challenges and making transportation to and from work more accessible.

“It’s as big to retain your employees right now as it is to get them, and this commuting, this cost of commuting to work, companies are starting to realize it’s important,” Olmsted said.

Gohio Commute, a program launched by the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, allows Ohioans to compare travel times and costs of various routes to work – whether that’s by bike or by bus, Olmsted said.

“It’ll tell them if there’s bike routes, if there’s safe sidewalk routes to walk, it would tell them if there’s people who want to carpool,” she said.

To incentivize commuters to drive less and opt for more sustainable modes of transportation, the program offers central Ohio companies up to $5,000 – matched dollar to dollar by MORPC – to implement workforce programs that encourage employees to leave their cars at home.

Employers can subsidize monthly transit passes or offer rewards to employees who carpool or use alternate modes of transportation to get to work, she said.

“As long as it’s going to get cars off the road and help people get to work and really do what this study is saying – trying to reduce that cost of people commuting,” Olmsted said.