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By Willoughby Mariano March 23, 2012

Ad: Metro Atlantans spend "260 hours a year" commuting

A new ad about the region’s dismal commutes made us worry that the best years of our lives are passing us by as we sit in traffic.

"Metro Atlanta, we have a problem," it says. "One of the longest average commutes in America. Over an hour every day, five hours a week you don’t spend with your family -- 260 hours a year."

This made your PolitiFact Georgia team sad. While we’re behind the wheel cursing traffic, we may be missing all of those Hallmark card experiences that are supposed to make the daily grind worthwhile.

A daughter’s first steps. Her dance recitals. That magic moment when you realize her boyfriend is no good and you need to run him off with a baseball bat.

Is what the ad is saying true?

The ad was sponsored by the Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network, a group of businesses and civic groups. They are banding together to tell voters about a July 31 referendum that asks voters to raise sales taxes to fund transportation projects across the region.    

Leaders hope to raise $6.14 billion over 10 years for a long list of transportation projects. An additional $1 billion would fund county and town projects.

Backers say that without it, the region will lose business to other places that are doing more to deal with traffic.

The ad was based on data from a February 2012 report from the Georgia Department of Transportation, a MAVEN spokeswoman told PolitiFact Georgia. The report said that the average work commute time in metro Atlanta was 30.3 minutes in 2010, which is up from 30.1 minutes in 2009.

The report cited the 2010 American Community Survey, a yearly national survey conducted by the U.S. Census Bureau. It reported times for a 28-county area surrounding Atlanta.  

The number cited in the commercial is the commute time for people traveling from home to work by all modes of transportation, including riding the train, walking, or using a bicycle.

Travel times for those who drive are similar. Those who commute alone in a car, truck or van spent an estimated 29.1 minutes on the road. Those who carpooled spent about 32.6 minutes.

If each commute is about 30 minutes, that means the average worker in metro Atlanta spends one hour commuting each day. If you work five days a week, 52 weeks a year, that equals 260 hours, the number cited in the commercial.  

We found a few problems with this calculation.

Commuting expert Alan Pisarski, who frequently writes about transportation issues and testifies before Congress, told PolitiFact Georgia that the American Community Survey is generally the best -- and often only -- source for commute times in metro regions or cities.

But the survey is limited. It publishes times for trips to work, not trips home. If you’re trying to find the average time spent commuting during a whole day, multiplying the ACS survey figure by two won’t necessarily give you the right answer. The afternoon commute might be shorter or longer.

PolitiFact Georgia also noted that commuters often don’t work all 52 weeks in a year. They often get a couple of weeks worth of vacation. The average time spent commuting each year might not be 260 hours.  

We hunted for additional data in metro Atlanta, but did not find any recent research. We found nothing that contradicted their numbers, either.  

So what’s our conclusion?

MAVEN’s television ad is based on information from the census that says the average trip to work in the Atlanta region is about 30 minutes.   

It was a bit of a leap for MAVEN to conclude that based on morning commute data, metro Atlantans spend "over an hour every day" traveling to and from work.
The afternoon commute might be longer or shorter. We don’t know because it’s not part of the census data.

It was a bigger leap for them to conclude that since the year is 52 weeks long, workers therefore spend "260 hours a year" commuting. Workers often get a week or so of vacation or sick leave.

MAVEN’s numbers are OK for a back-of-the-envelope calculation. They’re also within reason.  

However, metro Atlanta is so big and the commutes can be so different that assuming a trip to work takes as much time as the one back home is a bridge too far.

We give MAVEN a Half True.

Our Sources

You Tube, "MAVEN -- ‘Calculated Approach’" ad, posted March 14, 2012

Georgia Department of Transportation, Statewide Strategic Transportation Plan, Progress Report, February 2012

U.S. Census Bureau, American Community Survey, Means of Transportation to Work by Selected Characteristics for Workplace Geography, 2010

U.S. Census Bureau, "Commuting in the United States: 2009," September 2011

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, "T-SPLOST ‘education' campaign push starts," March 15, 2012

Atlanta Regional Commission, Regional Snapshot, "County-Level Congestion Trends: Jobs Play a Key Role," March 2012

Email interview, Saba Long, spokeswoman, Metro Atlanta Voter Education Network, March 21, 2012

Telephone interview, Alan Pisarski, commuting expert, March 21, 2012

Telephone interview, Julie Ralston, communications director, Atlanta Regional Commission, March 21, 2012

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Ad: Metro Atlantans spend "260 hours a year" commuting

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