Super-Commuting Into The Future

As technology proliferates, the ways in which we choose to live and work continue to change and expand. In recent years, adapting to the modern workplace which often includes options for telecommuting, working on the go, collaborative workspaces, and businesses spanning multiple cities, many people have joined the ranks of what are termed “super commuters”. These are people who live in one city and commute to work in an entirely different city.


According to census data, in Philadelphia we hold roughly 1,500 of these super-commuters who live here and travel to New York City for work at least a couple times a week.


To some the sheer idea of this commute might seem absurd. We’ll admit, it took us a moment to wrap our heads around the concept as well, but when you start to break down the numbers and take a look at it, the concept doesn’t seem so out there after all.


With the lower cost of living in Philadelphia and the opportunity for higher wages in New York, these super commuters may have discovered an unbeatable combination. For the right job, not to mention the right living space, this lifestyle could be the perfect choice.


Train information board at Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station


What’s more, with today’s trains, the commute from Philadelphia to New York City hovers just above one hour, which is comparable with the treks that many make daily from the outer Boroughs, Connecticut, and New Jersey, into Manhattan. Instead of paying the premiums to live in those locales, super-commuters can take advantage of Philadelphia’s lower cost of living while still cashing in on New York City job opportunities.


Curious about how the numbers add up in this equation, we decided to break it down and see.


30th Street Station in Philadelphia


According to the most recent census data, the median income in Philadelphia is $38,253, whereas the median in New York City is $53,373. Yet, data from Trulia shows that Philadelphia’s median rent comes in at $1,200 a month, compared to New York’s $4,400. Living in Philadelphia while commuting to New York would allow you to enjoy the former’s comfortable cost of living and still cash in on the latter’s higher wages.


Alternatively, if buying a home is on the table, then the numbers stack up even more in favor of a Philadelphia-New York commute. See the table below to see how a mortgage payment and Amtrak pass, which costs $1,339, adds up monthly. Mortgage figures were generated using Zillow’s mortgage calculator at current rates for a 30-year fixed plan and 20% down payment.


House Price                             Monthly Mortgage Payment              Monthly Payment w/ Amtrak

$200,000                                               $   781                                                     $2,120

$300,000                                                  1,151                                                      2,490

$400,000                                                  1,535                                                      2,874

$500,000                                                  1,907                                                      3,246


Additionally, property taxes in Philadelphia are significantly lower, with monthly payments and insurance only adding a couple hundred, at most, to these figures. The overall cost is definitely lower, but is it low enough to justify the long commute?


An Amtrak train departing Philadelphia


There are a number of other aspects of this super-commuter lifestyle to consider. A lot of employers offer programs where transportation tickets can be bought with pre-tax dollars that get deducted from your paycheck.


Other components include how many days a week you have to commute and if your employer will allow you to log work hours on the train. If you’re working a job where you only need to travel a couple days of the week and can work at home or elsewhere the other days, it might be more plausible. Amtrak offers a 10-ride ticket that costs $594 and is good for ten rides within a 45 day period. Alternatively, the bus is also an option. While it takes a little longer, Megabus and Boltbus tickets cost significantly less than Amtrak.



It is also important to consider what you are getting for these prices. In Philadelphia you can put less of your hard earned paycheck towards rent or a mortgage and get a whole lot more out of it when it comes down to space, variety, and amenities. So, while you may not be paying drastically less per month once you factor in transportation and other costs, your dollar is stretching further in Philadelphia, where rents still remain relatively low.


A view of Philadelphia’s 30th Street Station by night


A 2012 study by NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation placed super-commuting on the rise in most major U.S. metropolitan regions between 2002-2009. Philadelphia specifically experienced a 49.9% increase in this time, landing about 42,000 super-commuters. With the numbers showing a growing trend, joining the ranks of super-commuter’s might be an endeavor worth considering.

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