The Best and Worst Cities for Commuting

best and worst places for commuting

By Julia Watts | Content Manager | Published: 3 December 2019

Commuter carnage

We crunched the numbers to find out where in the world workers enjoy the most stress-free and cost-efficient ride to work


Delays. Soaring costs. Manspreading. These are just three of the hardships endured by commuters on a daily basis that make the journey to and from work a thoroughly miserable experience for many.

The situation is so dire in London that a recent survey by Time Out magazine found a reduced journey time actually boosted people’s happiness more than having sex.

But just how bad do workers in the nation’s capital have it? Is a Londoner’s commute any worse than a New Yorker’s, or a Parisian’s? How does it compare to those faced by workers in northern cities such as Leeds and Manchester?

We set out to answer these questions once and for all with the most comprehensive study of commuting in global cities to date.

We looked at 74 commuter hotspots in 16 countries, analysing seven data points. And while we couldn’t find any reliable figures on manspreading, the results paint a fascinating picture of commuting around the world.

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The top 10

The best cities for commuting
Rank Country City Score
1 France Nice 11.05
2 Ecuador Cuenca 14.78
3 Spain Bilbao 15.08
4 France Toulouse 16.02
5 Italy Catania 17.82
6 Italy Bari 18.83
7 France Lyon 18.94
8 Italy Bologna 20.27
9 France Strasbourg 20.56
10 UK Leicester 24.47

Nice nabs the top spot

Famed for its stunning architecture, mild Mediterranean climate and outstanding natural beauty, Nice has long been the retreat of Brits looking to swap wind and rain for sun and sea during the long winter months. But in light of the city’s performance in our rankings, perhaps it’s worth considering a more permanent move.

Workers in Nice enjoy fantastic value for money from the city’s transport network, paying on average just 1.25% of their monthly salary for a travel card — over four times less than commuters in London.

The average time spent travelling to and from work each day is a chilled 40 minutes, just about long enough to get in an episode of your favourite podcast, and road users spend only 22 hours stuck in traffic jams over the course of a year.

A beach in Nice

Life’s a beach: Commuters in Nice enjoy the lowest cost of travel relative to earnings


Cuenca flies the flag for South America

Cuenca, located in the highlands of Ecuador, makes a surprise appearance in the top 10 given the relatively poor performance of other cities in the region.

The city gives a good account of itself across the board, with cheap travel, short journey times and even shorter waiting times. Most commuters live a hop, skip, and a jump from the office, travelling on average just 3.8km each way — only workers in the Brazilian city of Campina Grande have it better in this regard.

Like Nice, Cuenca has a metropolitan population of less than a million, which is an indication that size really does matter when it comes to commuting.

In fact, the average population size of cities in the top 10 is 1,120,265 — over eight million less than that of cities in the bottom 10.


Leicester leads the way for UK cities

First the Premier League and now this. It really has been an exciting few years for residents of the East Midlands’ largest city, and surely the people responsible for transport at the council deserve to be immortalised alongside Ranieri, Vardy, Mahrez and co. in Leicester folklore. It’s only fair.

Commuters typically enjoy a hassle-free journey to work, with only 32% having to make more than one change in a single journey.

A monthly travel card will set you back a Bullseye, which, for the benefit of anyone living north of Watford, is Cockney rhyming slang for £50. Compare this to the eye-watering sum of £132 paid by Cockneys for the luxury of using public transport in their city and it’s clear who wins this battle between the Midlands and the South.


The bottom 10

The worst cities for commuting
Rank Country City Score
65 UK London 68.18
66 USA Miami 72.87
67 Colombia Cali 75.96
68 Brazil Brasilia 77.52
69 Canada Toronto 78.56
70 Brazil Salvador 78.71
71 Turkey Istanbul 81.78
72 Brazil Sao Paulo 83.71
73 Colombia Bogota 84.12
74 Brazil Rio de Janeiro 86.26

It’s official: London is rubbish for commuting

And in other news: the Pope is Catholic and a bear does indeed defecate in the woods.

It won’t come as a surprise to many people that the UK’s capital fared badly in our study. As we touched on above, the average cost of a monthly travel card is £132. This accounts for the highest percentage of monthly earnings (5.63%) in any of the European cities we looked at, with the exceptions of Istanbul and Saint Petersburg.

Rail fares have risen year on year for the last eight years, and they show no sign of levelling off. But steering clear of the trains won’t help you either; motorists spend around 74 hours stuck in traffic over the course of 12 months.

If there’s one crumb of comfort that Londoners can take from all this it’s that people in Birmingham and Manchester spend on average five and 10 minutes longer commuting each day. Small victories, eh?

Honestly though, all things considered, the only sensible thing to do if you live in the capital is to pack your bags and move to Nice. Fast. Before all this Brexit stuff goes down.

How do UK cities compare?
City Average daily commute
time (minutes)
Cost of a monthly travel
card as a % of monthly salary
Overall rank
Leicester 52 2.87% 10
Bristol 53 3.32% 18
Edinburgh 60 2.91% 22
Newcastle 64 3.10% 26
Leeds 77 3.25% 32
Manchester 89 3.44% 53
Birmingham 94 3.81% 58
London 84 5.63% 65
Commuters outside Brixton underground station

Londoners pay a higher percentage of their salary towards travel than commuters in almost any other European city


Commuters in Brazil fare worst

If you like the sound of miles and miles of sandy beach, breathtaking scenery, and samba dancing late into the night, then definitely check out Rio — it’s an incredible place. But if journey times in excess of 90 minutes and extortionate fares aren’t your thing, it’s probably best to avoid commuting in the city of carnival.

Rio ranks bottom in our study because of the high cost of public transport relative to earnings. A monthly travel card is priced around £42, which works out as 9.4% of the average net monthly salary.

Commuters spend 19 minutes a day waiting around for a bus or train, and when one finally arrives they travel a full 12.3 km to the office. That’s the third longest journey undertaken by workers in any city.

But Rio isn’t the only Brazilian city to perform poorly. Of the eight we looked at, seven rank in the bottom 20, with four in the bottom seven. And while there’s no denying that these results are pretty damning of the country’s transport infrastructure, it’s worth noting that the average population size of Brazilian cities in the study is 6,246,760. In contrast, the seven French cities we analysed, four of which are in the top 10, average 2,903,078 inhabitants.


The story stateside

The Americans’ aversion to walking is legendary; it seems they’ll find any excuse to jump in the car rather than go by foot. But perhaps the reasons for this extend beyond morbid obesity.

Of the eleven US cities we analysed, seven rank in the bottom 20 for journey distance. Commuters in Miami — 66th on our list — travel an average of 13 km to the office. Only workers in Brasilia have a longer journey.

As you might expect, congestion is a real problem too. Motorists in Los Angeles spend a mind-numbing 102 hours stuck in traffic annually. And New Yorkers aren’t much better off, spending an average of 91 hours in jams.

The answer? Move to San Diego, where workers have shorter commutes than their compatriots in other major cities and fork out just 1.79% of their hard-earned cash each month to travel on public transport. Nice is the only city where you’ll get more bang for your buck.

How do US cities compare?
City Average daily commute
time (minutes)
Cost of a monthly travel
card as a % of monthly salary
Hours spent in congestion
(over 240 days)
Overall rank
Minneapolis 66 2.39% 41 20
San Diego 70 1.79% 48 27
Denver 77 2.90% 36 35
Pittsburgh 73 4.01% 32 43
Portland 90 3.04% 50 49
Chicago 86 2.87% 57 50
New York 87 3.09% 91 57
Los Angeles 86 3.09% 102 60
Philadelphia 93 3.53% 37 62
Washington 86 4.18% 63 63
Miami 90 4.38% 64 66

Methodology

The study looks at 74 cities with a population size of more than 300,000, across 16 countries worldwide.

We used the Moovit Public Transport Index (150 million users worldwide) to find:

  • Average time spent commuting each day
  • Average time waiting for a bus or a train each day
  • Average journey distance (one way)
  • The percentage of commuters who make at least one change as part of a single journey

We used data from the Numbeo Cost of Living Index to calculate the average cost of a monthly travel card as a percentage of average net monthly salary.

We used the INRIX 2017 Global Traffic Scorecard to find the average number of hours spent in congestion over 240 commuting days.

The final ranking is weighted, with cost and time spent commuting judged to be the most important factors.

Julia Watts Content Manager

Specializing in the complex realms of telephone systems, business energy, vehicle tracking, asset tracking, and fuel cards, Julia writes content that cuts through the noise to help you find the right solutions and technologies for your business. Having spent five years working across the dynamic world of entrepreneurship, she loves helping exciting ventures – big or small – to flourish.

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