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Best and Worst U.S. Car Commutes

Editor's note: This story was created through a partnership with the personal finance Web site Bundle.

BOSTON (TheStreet) -- Whether you live in a city, the suburbs or farm country, commuting by car to and from work can be an unavoidable expense.

Beyond the obvious cost of gas, there are other ways a commute lightens your wallet -- wear and tear on your car, repairs and the value of your time as you are stuck behind the wheel in traffic.

An analysis of commuting costs and trends by TheStreet and Bundle set out to determine not only what people throughout the U.S. spend each year for transportation, but what cities are the worst off in terms of expenses. A ranking of how 90 U.S. cities fared can be found on the last page of this story.

According to U.S. Census data, roughly 76% of U.S. workers drive to work alone. Twelve percent carpool, 4.7% use public transportation, 3.3% work from home, 2.9% walk to work and 1.2% used other means (including a motorcycle or bicycle).

Analysis prepared earlier this year by the Center for Neighborhood Technology, a Chicago-based think tank that looks at issues of urban sustainability, illustrates how transportation costs drag down traditional "affordability" assessments. It shows that only two in five American communities are affordable for typical households when transportation costs are considered along with housing costs.

The organization's "Housing + Transportation Affordability Index" examined 337 metro areas across the country, encompassing 161,000 neighborhoods and 80% of the U.S. population.

Under the traditional definition of housing affordability (30% or less of household income spent on housing), seven out of 10 U.S. communities are considered "affordable" to the average household. But in almost all metro regions of the country, when the definition of affordability includes housing and transportation costs -- at 45% of income -- the number of communities affordable to low- and moderate-income households declines to four out of 10.

Those hit hardest by transportation costs are what a center study refers to as families in "drive-'til-you-qualify zones" -- those who moved outside city limits to save money and find cheaper homes to buy, so they could afford a mortgage.

These families often pay more in higher transportation costs than they save on housing, "placing more, not less, stress on their budgets," the study concludes. They "are most sensitive to jumps in gas prices because of the distances they must drive. The longer distances associated with sprawl also translate into more congestion on our highways, less leisure time with families as workers spend more time in their cars getting to and from jobs, and higher greenhouse gas emissions."

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