In Which US Cities did People Save the Most Money by Cutting Commuting Costs During the Pandemic?

Story Highlights:

  • People saved the most money in California by reducing or eliminating transportation costs;
  • Palmdale, CA, landed as the #1 city where people saved the most money: $3,581 in 6 months;
  • Corona, Santa Clarita, and Vallejo are among the California cities where people saved over $3K;
  • In New York City, commuters saved $3,000 in 6 months by working from home;
  • In the Midwest region of the country, Chicagoans managed to save an average of $2,902;
  • Southern cities where people saved the most money are Washington, DC, Miami, and Houston;

At the very beginning of 2020, most of us did what we always do at the start of a new and promising year, namely set resolutions. For some, that might mean losing weight, becoming more active, traveling more, while for others, it might mean saving money and time in an increasingly busy world. Little did we know what this year had in store for us, and how much time and money we actually would end up saving just by working from home, cutting transportation costs and eliminating commutes for a good chunk of the year.

For those of us lucky enough to have had the opportunity to work from home and keep our jobs, we were fortunate to save up some money by eliminating commute costs, and we even ended up with more spare time on our hands. However, on the other side of the spectrum, some Americans had to rely on their savings to get through harsh times. Unfortunately, nearly 14% wiped-out their emergency savings.

According to a MassMutual survey, about 22% of U.S. citizens (that’s approximately 1 in 5 people) saved at least $1,000 during the pandemic. Apart from cutting transportation costs— from gas money to bus passes and everything in between—most Americans managed to save money by not spending so much on entertainment, food, or going out.

Figuring out where people saved the most time and money during the pandemic

Intrigued by these statistics, we did a little research and digging of our own, and we also collaborated with Roos Advisors and NYC Network Group to bring the entire study to fruition. We got curious about how the pandemic affected specific cities when it came to saving time and money in the past 6 months. From average daily commute times to gas prices, commute distance, and fuel efficiency when it comes to vehicles, we analyzed everything. 

Using every available dataset we could get our hands on, we managed to create a list that shows the cities where people saved the most money and time by cutting public transportation costs or car costs during the COVID-19 pandemic. We also created several regional pandemic savings rankings, to get a better picture of the differences.  

If you’re curious about the specific methods we used for our calculations, scroll down to the end of the article to read the detailed methodology. 

Now that the technicalities are out of the way, let’s see which are the cities where people saved the most money.

By reducing or eliminating transportation costs, people saved the most money in California

Seven out of 10 cities on our list are Californian cities, specifically cities around Los Angeles. Furthermore, more than half of the cities in the top 100 are also Californian cities orbiting L.A. This does not come as a surprise, as most people living in and around L.A, including Orange County, L.A. County or Riverside County all rely on personal cars rather than public transportation for commuting.

With driving to work using a personal car being far more expensive than using public transportation, it’s no wonder people saved the most money in L.A. once the coronavirus hit and essentially froze almost all activity in the city. 

Palmdale, California residents saved up $3,581 in 6 months on transportation

With a population of 157,000 and a per-capita income of $22,962, Palmdale, CA, landed as the #1 city where people saved the most money by cutting car costs. Palmdale residents managed to save about $3,581 in six months, which roughly translates to traveling 4,500 miles less compared to normal circumstances.

Essentially, Palmdale residents who stopped commuting by car saved up a total of 7 days, time which was spent doing something far more productive than being stuck in traffic. Commuters in Palmdale saved 16% of their income by cutting car costs.

Located in Riverside County, Corona ended up being the third city where people saved the most money by cutting transportation costs. It’s safe to say that Corona residents regularly commute to L.A. for work by car, and once the lockdown was in place, there was not much commuting going on. Here, commuters managed to save an average of $3,280 in 6 months, and 10% of their income.

Even though most of the top 10 is made up of Californian cities, Dale City, VA occupies the 4th spot. Located on the outskirts of Washington, D.C., Dale City is a Census-designated place with a population of almost 74,000. With the majority of residents working in the capital city, once the pandemic hit and people got confined to their homes, commuting fizzled out for a while. Here, residents saved an average of $3,255 in 6 months, and about a week of commute time.

Other California cities where people saved over $3K are Whittier, Santa Clarita, Vallejo, Moreno Valley and West Covina.

New York City residents saved $3,000 in 6 months by reducing commute costs

Coming in at #8 on this ranking, NYC is notoriously known for traffic jams, high transportation costs, and unnecessary time wasted commuting. The difference between New York City and L.A. is that people in NYC rely far more on public transportation than on personal cars. However, people commuting outside of NYC into the city often use their personal cars, then switch to public transport once they arrive. 

Nonetheless, once the shelter-in started, there was little to no commuting or traffic in the Big Apple, and things only got back to normal once the city reopened in phases. Over the last 6 months, people who stopped commuting by car saved on average $3,083 and about 7 days of being stuck in traffic. New Yorkers saved 7% of their income by cutting car costs.

At #9 on the list is Germantown, MD, an urbanized census-designated place between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Being positioned between two major cities, once the pandemic hit, commuting to work severely dropped in this city. By drastically reducing commuting costs, residents here also managed to save around $3,000 and about 6 days of driving.

Regional overview (cities with population over 100,000)

NYC, Philadelphia, Boston among Northeast cities where people saved the most money

Philadelphia commuters managed to save around $2,791 over the last 6 months and about 6 hours of commute time, on average. Those who rely mostly on public transportation in Philly saved 7 days of commuting, while those who drive to work saved 5.

People living and commuting in Jersey City saved approximately $2,928, while Boston residents who cut public transport and car costs managed to save an average of $2,542. 

Commuters in 16 Northeastern US cities managed to save between $2,000 and $3,000, including Cambridge, MA., Newark, NJ. and Bridgeport, CT., to name a few.

Southern cities where people saved the most money include Washington, DC, Miami, Houston, and Baltimore

Washington, D.C., is the #1 southern city with a population over 100,000 where commuters were left with the most money in their pockets during the pandemic. Here, residents who cut transportation costs managed to save around $2,688. Alexandria, VA., landed on the second spot, with people saving an average of $2,653 in 6 months and about 6 days of commute time.

In Baltimore, citizens saved $2,464, in Miami they saved an average of $2,442, and in Houston, they saved $2,387.

Additional cities where people saved over $2,000 are Arlington, VA., Fort Worth, TX., Fort Lauderdale, FL., Orlando, Dallas, and Atlanta.

In the Midwest, people saved the most money in Chicago

Chicagoans managed to save an average of $2,902 and 6 days by cutting down on commuting. People in 10 Midwest cities managed to save over $2K, in cities such as Indianapolis, Detroit, St. Louis, and Minneapolis.

In Columbus, 6 months of using personal cars and public transportation to the bare minimum got residents an extra $1,941 in their pockets, while commuters in Cincinnati saved an average of $1,906. 

Cities where people saved between $1,800 and $1,900 in the Midwest are Kansas City, MO. and Kansas City, KS., Toledo, OH., and Milwaukee, WI.

In West Coast cities, commuters saved between $3,500 and $2,600

You already know that people saved the most money in Palmdale, Corona, Santa Clarita and Vallejo in California. But what about L.A. or San Francisco?

In Los Angeles, commuters managed to save up to $2,731 in 6 months, and in San Francisco, they saved up about $2,696.

Other Californian cities where people saved a hefty chunk of money during the pandemic are Riverside, Fremont, Fairfield, and Long Beach, to name a few.

For those who have the option, working from home can mean more time and money

The COVID-19 pandemic was—and still is—a huge issue, and communities, businesses, and families alike are affected by it. However, this situation also brought a lot of positive change to the world. We are more aware of our surroundings, and are looking for ways to better our lifestyles during these hard times. Saving money by cutting commuting costs is just scratching the surface; there are many ways we can improve both our lives and businesses by giving up on certain things that aren’t that crucial. 

By having the opportunity to work from home, some Americans did end up saving money and investing it in things they love, from hobbies to growing their own business, and more. 


To calculate the average amount of money commuters saved since the start of the lockdown (March 2020), we first had to look at the daily average time a person spends commuting to work and back home. We got this data from Census.

We looked at the average time a person spends commuting if they travel by car or by using public transportation. We made an average of both car and public transportation commuting times, and multiplied it with 6 months’ worth of working days. This way we found out how much time (hours & days) people saved by not commuting for 6 months.

We then proceeded to calculate how many miles people saved by looking at NHTS Travel Trends data sets. According to NHTS, 27.08 miles is the average number of miles driven in 60 minutes.

Once we determined this, we calculated how much money people would save by cutting car costs. For this, we used an Exchange AAA survey on driving costs. 

To determine how much money commuters saved, we looked at how much time they spend commuting on average, how many miles they travel, and how much they would’ve spent on car costs. This is how we ended up knowing how much money they saved. 

To determine the percentage of money saved by cutting car costs, we again turned to Census to see the per capita income data for each individual in each city, and simply subtracted transportation costs.

For public transportation, we only looked at how much time they save.

This study was created in collaboration with Roos Advisors & NYC Networking Group. Roos Advisors is an advisory firm that helps companies improve in sales, marketing, operations & human development through education and coaching, while NYC Network Group hosts a variety of real estate-related events.

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