These US cities have the worst traffic, says new report

(NEXSTAR) — After being sent to work from home during the COVID pandemic, many are back to working in the office — at least part-time. That trend will likely continue: A recent report from Resume Builder found that 90% of companies plan to return to the office by the end of 2024. 

A return to the office also means a return to the roadways for rush hour, if you haven’t already. 

As you may have guessed, rush-hour traffic in some cities is worse than in others. Navigation software company TomTom recently released its annual Traffic Index for 2023, using more than 600 million in-car navigation systems and smartphones to analyze commuting trends.

Of the 387 cities analyzed worldwide, the company found the average traffic speed in 228 decreased compared to 2022, meaning it’s taking longer for drivers to get from Point A to Point B. 

Overall, TomTom found Dublin, Ireland, was the most congested city in the world last year, with commuters spending 153 hours in traffic.

Closer to home, TomTom reviewed 80 cities in the U.S. based on average travel times, congestion and the average speed during rush hour. 

New York City ranked as the worst when it comes to traffic. According to TomTom’s research, on average, commuters in the heart of the city spent nearly 25 minutes driving just about 6 miles (10 kilometers) in 2023, a 20-second increase over 2022. That’s the 20th-longest overall in the world. 

These five U.S. cities had the longest travel average travel times covering about 6 miles, TomTom determined: 

  1. New York City: 24 minutes and 50 seconds
  2. Washington, D.C.: 21 minutes and 20 seconds
  3. San Francisco: 20 minutes and 30 seconds
  4. Boston: 19 minutes and 10 seconds
  5. Chicago: 17 minutes and 40 seconds

Of those above, only Chicago saw its commute time improve compared to 2022, TomTom found — though it was only by 10 seconds. San Francisco’s commute time didn’t change.

Indianapolis, on the other hand, saw the greatest improvement in commute time over 2022, dropping 2 minutes and 10 seconds. It was not, however, one of the cities with the shortest average travel time of about 6 miles. 

Drivers in Oklahoma City needed just 8 minutes and 40 seconds to travel that distance in the heart of the city. Commuting was quickest in these five U.S. cities last year, according to TomTom: 

  1. Oklahoma City: 8 minutes and 40 seconds
  2. Knoxville, Tennessee: 8 minutes and 50 seconds
  3. San Diego: 9 minutes
  4. Syracuse and Albany, New York; Detroit; Dayton, Ohio: 9 minutes and 10 seconds
  5. Jacksonville, Florida, and Fresno, California: 9 minutes and 20 seconds

TomTom also ranked cities based on traffic congestion by calculating the average time commuters spent driving a 6-mile trip twice a day at peak hours. 

Again, drivers in New York City had it the worst, losing 112 hours to rush-hour traffic throughout 2023. The next-worst city was Los Angeles, where drivers lost 89 hours to congestion. In only three other cities — Boston, Chicago and Washington, D.C. — drivers lost more than 80 hours.

Drivers in other New York cities, as well as Ohio, saw the least congestion. It was Akron, Ohio, where commuters were best off, losing just 10 hours to traffic at peak times. Other cities at the bottom of the list were Syracuse, New York, and Omaha, Nebraska, at 11 hours; Albany and Dayton at 12 hours; and Cleveland, Ohio; Tulsa, Oklahoma, and Greensboro, North Carolina, at 13 hours. 

These times changed slightly when TomTom analyzed the metro areas versus the city centers. 

In New York City’s metro area, for example, the average time to drive about 6 miles dropped to 13 minutes, the same amount of time drivers in the Honolulu area needed. Also climbing into the top five for worst drive times were McAllen, Texas, at 12 minutes and 40 seconds, and Los Angeles — a city that ranked as ninth overall in the U.S. when just city centers were studied — at 12 minutes and 10 seconds.

When looking at commutes in metro areas, TomTom found that in 11, the average time is below 9 minutes: Greensboro; Winston-Salem, North Carolina; Little Rock, Arkansas; Birmingham, Alabama; Hartford, Connecticut; Kansas City, Missouri; Columbia, South Carolina; Oxnard, California; Syracuse; Knoxville, and Dayton. 

Here’s a look at the five metro areas where commuters lost the most — and least — time to rush hour in 2023: 

Metro areas with most time lost to rush hour Time lost Metro areas with least time lost to rush hour Time lost
Los Angeles 50 hours Greensboro 9 hours
Honolulu 48 hours Akron 9 hours
San Francisco 44 hours Dayton 10 hours
Miami 41 hours Cleveland 10 hours
San Jose 39 hours Winston-Salem 11 hours

Traffic and commute times will, of course, vary based on a city’s size and the time you’re heading out to work. You can view TomTom’s full report here.

Last year, INRIX, a data and analytics firm specializing in transportation, released its own Global Traffic Scorecard. The results were largely similar: Chicago commuters lost the most time to traffic in 2022 at 155 hours, followed by Boston (134 hours) and New York (117 hours). 

There is a glimmer of hope for those hitting the road this year compared to last year: gas prices are predicted to drop in 2024, according to GasBuddy, which pointed to the U.S.’s ability to produce more crude oil than any other country. 

“We continue to mend from things like the pandemic — which brought a lot of imbalances, a lot of very high inflation, which is now slowing down and in some cases going back,” Patrick De Haan, GasBuddy’s head of petroleum analysis, said in December.

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