The average resident of the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro area spends 34.4 minutes commuting to work, longer than both the national average of 26.4 minutes and the statewide average of 29.8 minutes. Washington residents have the shortest commute of any metro area in District of Columbia.

Two of the main factors that determine commute time are the distance to be traveled and traffic congestion. In large, dense cities, commuters likely travel longer distances from home to work and do so at slower speeds.

In Washington, there are 32,199 people per square mile, a greater population density than the average across all U.S. metro areas of 6,088 Americans per square mile. The metro is comprised of 6,680 square miles of land and water, making it the 29th largest U.S. metropolitan area by land mass.

Metropolitan areas often consist of a core principal city with strong economic and social ties to their surrounding regions. In the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria metro, Washington is the principal city and economic hub for adjacent municipalities and townships. The less concentrated a metropolitan area population is within its principal city, the more time residents spend commuting to work. Nationwide, 38.3% of metro area residents live within their principal city, and the remaining 61.7% in surrounding communities. An estimated 25.5% of Washington-Arlington-Alexandria residents live in Washington, a smaller share than the national figure.

Denser cities often have comprehensive public transit systems that can connect residents to their jobs and in some cases shorten the commute to work. In Washington, 14.4% of residents commute via public transportation, a larger share than the national public transit ridership of 5.2%. On average, those who take public transit in Washington take 17 minutes longer getting to work than those who drive. Nationwide, taking public transit adds 25 minutes to the average commute.

One indication of a good transit system is an economically diverse ridership. If ridership in a metropolitan area is primarily just low-income residents, the system is less likely to operate smoothly or be maintained well. In Washington, the typical public transit commuter earns $52,211 a year, roughly 101% of the $51,704 median earnings of commuters who drive to work alone in the metro area. Nationwide, the median earnings for public transit commuters is 89% that of workers who commute in a car, truck, or van alone.

Traffic is a complicated phenomenon, and there is little consensus among economists and transportation planners as to the best method for curbing traffic congestion. While new highways are often constructed or widened to decrease congestion, there is evidence that additional highway capacity increases traffic volume. The average Washington resident drives 22.9 miles a day, also among the most of any large city.

Rank Metro Area Commute Time
10 Vallejo-Fairfield, CA 30.9
9 Stockton-Lodi, CA 31.1
8 Atlanta-Sandy Springs-Roswell, GA 31.3
7 Boston-Cambridge-Newton, MA-NH 31.4
6 Chicago-Naperville-Elgin, IL-IN-WI 31.8
5 Riverside-San Bernardino-Ontario, CA 31.9
4 San Francisco-Oakland-Hayward, CA 33.2
3 Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD-WV 34.4
2 New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA 36.3
1 East Stroudsburg, PA 39.6