San Mateo County commute times increase since 2008 

click to enlarge traffic
  • Justin Sullivan/2009 Getty Images file photo
  • Going to and from work for San Mateo County residents takes about a minute longer than it did five years ago, partially because more commuters have been hitting the highway.
The commute times in San Mateo County have increased since 2008 — reflecting the recovering economy and growing population in the region.

The average time a county resident spends traveling to and from work has increased by about a minute since 2008 — or from 24.6 to 25.8 minutes, according to census data. Although a minute appears to be a marginal increase, state and local data suggests some area commuters are spending much more time getting to and from work than others.

Increasing numbers of motorists may be partly responsible for the longer commute averages. During rush hours in the Bay Area, the amount of time commuters are stuck in traffic has nearly doubled from 80,000 in 2009 to just over 140,000 hours in 2013, according to Caltrans data. The number of miles driven by Bay Area residents also shows a steady increase from 2009.

Thus far, SamTrans officials say commute times haven’t been affected by the increased roadway congestion. But Caltrain has begun to suffer slowdowns and delays due to record-breaking ridership, which causes trains to remain at each station longer, officials say.

“Even if it’s only a minute or two, it adds up over the entire line,” Caltrain spokeswoman Christine Dunn said.

The improving economy is partly responsible for congestion and transit delays, said John Goodwin of the Metropolitan Transit Commission. In the past year, there were 95,400 new jobs across the Bay Area, 18,200 of which were located within county lines, according to data from the California Employment Development Department.

“It’s a good problem to have,” Goodwin said.

But the reasons for congestion increases are complex and influenced by many factors such as the regional economy, population growth and even regional housing developments, Caltrans spokeswoman Gidget Navarro said.

Since 2000, the population in the county has increased by about 10,000 people, and the number of housing units has also increased by about the same number, according to census data.

But there’s no easy way to shorten commute times, local transit officials say.

“Obviously, the era of freeway construction is not only over, but it has been over for a generation,” said Goodwin, adding that the challenge the county — and region — faces is to squeeze the maximum amount of efficiency from the system already built.

For example, installing ramp metering lights along U.S. Highway 101 in 2007 cut peak travel times from 35 minutes to 24 minutes, according to MTC data.

Public-transportation improvements can also help ease commuters’ pain. The pending Caltrain electrification project will also make travel more efficient, increasing the frequency of the trains, agency officials say. The project is scheduled for completion in 2019.

Federal officials were unable to comment on the census data due to the government shutdown.

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