fb-pixelIt’s not your imagination. Your Boston commute is getting worse. - The Boston Globe Skip to main content

It’s not your imagination. Your Boston commute is getting worse.

Vehicles today take a lot longer to cover the same distances they did a decade ago. Craig F. Walker/Globe Staff/File

Barbara Mayer, a nurse from the South Shore, has been making the same drive to and from the Longwood Medical Area for five years. Today, the trip takes her a good 15 or 20 minutes longer than it used to, an hour and a half compared with 70 minutes, and that’s if there’s no Cape traffic.

“I used to have time to water the flowers when I got home,” she said.

It’s the same story on the North Shore, where the drive into Boston to meet clients sometimes takes etiquette consultant Jodi Smith two hours, twice as long as it did a decade ago. West of the city, in Waltham, the MBTA’s Route 505 morning rush bus to the Financial District is now allotted 63 minutes to arrive. It was allotted 47 minutes in 2007.


[Seeing Red: A Boston Globe Spotlight Team report on traffic in Massachusetts]

Even in a city that has long known traffic headaches, congestion in recent years has extended commutes to lengths that approach a breaking point, encroaching ever deeper into the lives of workers who say they have less and less time to spare.

With Boston’s commutes ranked among the nation’s most stressful, employers increasingly must woo workers by allowing them to work from home or at off hours, according to the global staffing agency Robert Half. Some workers are simply electing to quit rather than lose more time to the road.

Joel Richman of Boxborough left his job and started working from home when a company move from Newton to Boston stretched his drive to two hours each way.

“You end up planning your entire day around your commute,” he said. “I’d leave at 4:15 and everyone else was still cranking away. By the time I got home it would be almost six. I’d try and spend a few minutes with my daughter and then log back on to the computer.”


Even real estate agents are having to adapt, by changing the way they market their properties. “We used to say ‘20 minutes into Boston,’ ” Waltham broker Gary Rogers said, “but we don’t give the time anymore — it’s too dangerous. You don’t know if there are going to be delays.”

There are a few ways to measure how bad traffic has gotten. You can look at numerous studies showing that commuters are spending more time stuck in traffic than ever. One found the average Boston-area driver spending 60 hours stuck in traffic in 2017 — two more hours than in 2016.

You can think about the fact that Millennium Partners is proposing a $100 million gondola to fly workers over the clogged streets of the Seaport.

Here’s another way to see the change: Compare old bus schedules with today’s schedules, and notice that it takes buses — and cars driving on the same roads — a lot longer to cover the same number of miles than it did a decade ago.

Joanne Rathe/Globe Staff/file/Globe Staff

“We had to revise the schedule to reflect reality,” said Colin Johnson, a vice president with DATTCO, which runs a commuter bus from Fairhaven to Copley Square.

Ten years ago, DATTCO’s 6:50 a.m. bus from Fairhaven hit Back Bay around 8:20, a 90-minute ride. Today’s commuters are on that bus for 130 minutes and don’t get to Copley until 9 a.m.


It’s a similar story from Southern New Hampshire. In 2008, the 7:30 a.m. Boston Express bus from North Londonderry, N.H., to South Station arrived at 8:35, a 65-minute trip. Today the express gets in at 9:10, 100 minutes after departing.

The MBTA has also changed its schedules, a reflection of the growing traffic and unpredictability of that traffic, according to the agency. In 2017, the morning express routes from Brighton and Watertown and Waltham took an average of 39 percent longer than they did in 2007.

With rush-hour traffic growing exponentially, every commuter interviewed spoke about the impacts on their lives and jobs, and the dreaded math of Boston traffic, in which a small delay in departure time can cost dearly in extra time on the road.

“If you leave five minutes late, it could take you 20 minutes longer to get to work,” said Mayer, the nurse. “Every once in a while, I’ll forget that I need to stop and get gas, and I’ll think, ‘Oh my God, I’ll never get there on time.’ ”

Just as we’re experiencing more extreme weather events these days, anecdotal evidence shows that the increased volume of cars on the roads is leading to more extreme traffic events.

The smallest thing — rain, construction, a game at Fenway, an accident on a feeder road — can cause a tie-up.

That makes people afraid to go to work in bad weather, for fear they’ll never get home in time to meet family obligations.


In Sudbury, on a day when one of the recent nor’easters was heading our way, new mom Jordan Haywood worked from home rather than head into the financial district. Her infant’s day care was closing early, meaning Haywood would basically go to work and turn right around.

“If you’re a half an hour late [for day-care pickup] it’s $7,” she said, mentioning that she’s still breast-feeding, and that when she runs late, not only does it cost her money, but her milk begins to build up, adding extra urgency.

Some of her fellow working and commuting mothers pump in the car while they’re driving, she said. “They say it’s a timesaver. They are multitasking.”

As the drives get longer, living in or close to Boston is becoming farther out of reach financially for average workers. An analysis of single-family home sales found that prices are rising much faster in or near the city compared with prices in far-flung towns, according to Timothy Warren Jr., chief executive of the Warren Group.

He looked at the prices of single-family homes in 285 Massachusetts communities and found that in only 10 have prices surpassed what they were in 2005 — a peak in the market — by 50 percent or more. Nine of those 10 communities were in or near Boston.

“Some of those communities were previously considered blue-collar and affordable, including South Boston, Jamaica Plain, Somerville, and Charlestown,” Warren said in an e-mail.

“Others in the top ten (Cambridge, Brookline, Newton, and Lexington) have always been high-priced, but have become dramatically more so in recent years,’’ Warren said.


This pricey housing means many people are forced to live far from work, a situation made more painful by the growing commute times.

Michelle Collins and her fiance settled in Saugus after not being able to afford anything closer to their jobs. She works as a lab technician in Newton. He’s a warehouse manager in Natick. That means an hour’s commute each way for her and sometimes a two-hour trip for him.

“No matter what time you leave you can hit these weird pockets of traffic,” she said.

If Collins doesn’t build in a cushion, she might arrive late and, she said, have minutes deducted from her pool of vacation, personal, and sick time.

“I’d rather spend the time on vacation than sitting on Route 128 southbound,” she said.

Beth Teitell can be reached at beth.teitell@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @bethteitell.