The twenty-first century is emerging as the century of the “super-commuter,” a person who works in the central county of a given metropolitan area, but lives beyond the boundaries of that metropolitan area, commuting long distance by air, rail, car, bus, or a combination of modes. The super-commuter typically travels once or twice weekly for work, and is a rapidly growing part of our workforce. The changing structure of the workplace, advances in telecommunications, and the global pattern of economic life have made the super-commuter a new force in transportation.These "super-commuters" represent an interesting market which should be highly amenable to incorporating rail into their infrequent commutes and a shortcut method of identifying rail corridor which should be prioritized for increased rail service.
Somewhat surprisingly, Houston has both the greatest number of super-commuters and the greatest percentage growth in 2002-2009 with a total of 251,200 super-commuters in Harris County, almost doubling its initial amount. Coming for the most part from Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, and San Antonio (collectively, 47% of the super-commuters), and with Dallas itself holding a substantial number of commuters from these cities, it seems obvious that a Texas Triangle high speed rail system should attract a very high level of ridership. Certainly it would seem to justify the approximately 1.25 billion dollar expense of an intercity passenger rail line between Austin and Houston.
Los Angeles comes second for super-commuters with 233,000 and a 76.7% increase and, rather interestingly, all but the very last location, El Centro, already possess a developed intercity rail service to Los Angeles or will possess it with the introduction of the California high speed rail system. Unsurprisingly, San Diego leads with 78,300 such super-commuters but Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo contribute another 10,500 and 5,800 respectively. These numbers indicate that, although the high speed rail project will of necessity consume the large majority of rail funds in and for California, substantial investment should still be made with the Pacific Surfliner to reduce travel times and increase reliability of the service, which would, in turn increase the patronage of the high speed rail system when it arrives.
Somewhat surprisingly with Los Angeles, in my opinion, is the sheer number of commuters from Northern California, over 60,000 of them. Predominately they originate in San Francisco, 35,700, but San Jose and Sacramento contribute another 12,500 and 10,400 respectively. Given that the study indicates these super-commuters are more likely to be middle-class, with earnings under $40,000 annually, it's highly probable that a cheaper, yet still time and productivity competitive, rail option will succeed in becoming the preferential mode of travel.