The Real Costs of Commuting

Are you already in a bad, stressed-out mood before you even walk into your office every day? You are probably not alone. According to Census data, the average daily commute for Marylanders is the longest in the country, clocking in at 32 minutes each way (yes, we even beat out the New York Metro area). That does not even touch the “mega-commuters”—close to 600,000 nationwide—who spend close to two hours commuting to work—that’s each way! One fourth of those mega-commuters are in the Washington, DC, metro area. If that bit of news isn’t disturbing enough, how about an overview of the state of the roads and bridges where those commutes take place? The Governor’s office posted a blog that breaks down the cost of commuting and the impact of deteriorated and outdated highways and bridges. According to their data, seven percent of Maryland’s bridges are structurally deficient and 18 percent are structurally obsolete. These inefficiencies add up to approximately 41 hours of lost time and approximately $1,700 in out-of-pocket costs per year for Baltimore commuters. For those working in DC, those estimates are much higher—67 hours and more than $2,100 lost per year. In a time where gas prices are rising and the economy remains wobbly, these are not comforting figures.

In my opinion, in order to continue on a path of economic growth and prosperity, it’s in the best interest of the State to improve not only the state of highways and bridges but also the availability of public transportation options. Unfortunately, as is the case with most economic and policy decisions, there is no easy answer as we must try to reallocate scarce resources to meet increased demand (boy, do I love sneaking in a little ECON 101 in here). In order to try to tackle this massive issue, the Governor’s office is proposing a two percent increase in the wholesale sales tax on gasoline starting this July. Meanwhile, the excise tax on gasoline would fall from 23.5 cents to 18.5 cents. Revenues would be used to fund infrastructure repairs and the expansion of public transportation. A previous proposal for a tax increase stalled, and this new one has a long ladder to climb. Regardless, this is one economic and fiscal issue that we simply cannot continue to ignore. Hard choices will have to be made. As I see it, if we do not make the necessary improvements, we will be paying higher costs regardless. Are you worried about the state of our roads and highways? Would you be willing (or are you even able) to pay a little more at the pump?

Image credit: Washington Post

Image credit: Washington Post

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Raquel Frye is a technical advisor for the Regional Economics Studies Institute and a lecturer in the Department of Economics at Towson University. An enthusiast of economics and economic education, Raquel’s posts focus on analyzing the economics of policies and current news stories (with a little econ humor thrown in for good measure).