Leslie Taylor left work early Tuesday afternoon — before Highway 101 became clogged by commuter traffic — and it still took an hour and a half to drive from her technology job in San Francisco’s Mission Bay neighborhood to her apartment near Coddingtown Mall in Santa Rosa.
Sometimes, the drive home can take two hours.
In the morning, she has to get up at 4 a.m. and be out the door in 30 minutes to beat the heavy traffic into San Francisco.
The reasons she endures the commuting hassle are higher pay — she said she earns more than $100,000 a year — her career opportunity and ability to live in Sonoma County near family.
“That’s one reason why I do it. If I were to work in Santa Rosa, that income is so much smaller than in the Bay Area,” said Taylor, 35, a consumer safety specialist for computer software company Adobe.
Taylor, who also works from home one day a week, is among 8,150 super commuters in Sonoma County, a segment of the workforce that’s grown more than 8 percent between 2005 and 2017, according to an analysis of U.S. Census data by Apartment List, an online marketplace connecting renters with apartment listings.
In a report released this month, Apartment List researchers found Sonoma County super commuters — those who drive at least 90 minutes between home and work — have the highest median yearly salaries among Bay Area cities. At $99,000 a year, the county’s super commuters make about $40,000 more than the median annual salary of $58,150 for local workers who commute less than 90 minutes to work.
By comparison, super commuters who live in the San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward region make $90,000 a year; Silicon Valley super commuters in the San Jose-Sunnyvale-Santa Clara area make $83,000 annually; and Napa County super commuters make $85,750, according to Apartment List’s calculations.
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The average commute to work nationwide is roughly 26 minutes, about five minutes longer than it was during the 1980s and 1990s, according to the Apartment List report. But the average commute is becoming less common.
Nationally, the report found the number of super commuters jumped 31.7 percent between 2005 and 2017. There are about 3.5 million people in the United States, or 2.9 percent of the full-time working population, who are super commuters driving more than 15 hours a week to and from work.
Robert Eyler, director of the Center for Regional Economic Analysis at Sonoma State University, said those who opt for longer commutes usually do so because they can get “more housing” for their money.
He said there’s anecdotal evidence suggesting it’s not just tech workers like Taylor enduring long commutes.
Super commuters mostly live in large cities or next to major employment centers such as the Bay Area, New York City, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C., and Boston, according to the report.
In the Bay Area in recent decades, job opportunities have grown, but the housing supply has failed to keep up with the increasing number of people working there.
Bay Area communities like San Francisco and the South Bay have become increasingly unaffordable, said Chris Salviati, an Apartment List housing economist who co-authored the report.
In Northern California, Salviati said driving a long way to work tends to be caused by the lack of affordable housing in the Bay Area.