Do you like to be in a traffic jam, or to be almost smashed by dozens of metro passengers?
Millions of people don’t like it, but they are in such situation twice a day. So feel lucky if you are not one of those. But if you think it is not your business, remember that traffic jams damage air quality and cause water pollution.
By the way, those people are called commuters.
Are you a commuter?
According to Cambridge Dictionary, commuter is someone who regularly travels between work and home. Taking it literally, you are a commuter unless you don’t work or you work at home. In reality, we refer to commuters as people who daily face long travels to work by air, rail, car, bus, bicycle, foot or some combination.
In the USA, around 25 million people spend more than 90 minutes commuting every day. More than 600,000 mega-commuters travel 90 minutes or more and 50 miles or more to work, one-way. This makes more than 3 hours a day commuting!
Those working in capital cities often face the most lengthy journey times to work, and some of the longest delays for traffic congestion. Greater New York has the longest daily commute to work. What a privilege!
How we perceive our commute?
Maybe you are one of the few unusual people who enjoy commuting. Well, for most of us commutes are not fun.
According to a survey of 5,500 commuters carried out by Ford Motor Company, commuting is more stressful than the work itself. What is more, one in three people perceive commuting increasingly stressful, and more than one in four think that commutes are unpredictable. It is revealing that many people find commuting more stressful than moving to a new home or going to the dentist.
Those facts make workers leave early from home, adding 30 minutes or more to the scheduled time for commuting. Anyway, 63% of commuters are late at least once a month.
According to the University of West England, an additional 20 minutes of commuting per day have the same negative effect on job satisfaction as receiving a 19% pay cut. And according to a study made by the Office of National Statistics of UK (ONSUK), each 10 minutes of commuting time is associated with an average reduction of 2% in how people rate their life satisfaction.
How much time we spend commuting?
The top 50 worst commutes in USA range from 50 to 74 minutes, round trip. The average commuter spends 52 minutes commuting every day. This is around 20% longer than when the U.S. Census Bureau first started to monitor commutes in 1980. In UK, the average daily commuting time is 54 minutes. In other major cities of the world, it is over an hour.
If you do the math, this is 9 natural days (24 hours) per year! In other words, 27 working days (8 hours)!
Commuting and personal well-being
The concept of well-being is recently playing a main role. Economic growth does not necessarily reflect quality of life. When we mention well-being, not only we consider health, but we refer to how satisfied individuals are with their lives, how often they experience different emotions, and whether they feel they are fulfilling their potential.
So, is commuting really worsening our well-being?
For many people, commuting is stressful and affects their mood. They would rather spend that time on other activities or with their families. It can bring unhappiness and create job dissatisfaction. And ultimately it could affect mental and physical health.
According to a study of the University of Leicester, people driving more than two hours a day lose their brain power faster. The research doesn’t blame the driving itself, but all that time your brain is not active.
Another research of ONSUK reveals that commuting for more than 15 minutes each way increases anxiety. If the journey goes beyond 30 minutes, the negative effects of commuting start to affect all aspects of personal well-being.
The same research compared the personal well-being of commuters versus people working from home. Commuters on average were less satisfied with their lives, were less happy, and had more anxiety.
Pay attention to these signs. If you suffer some of them, commuting might be affecting you:
- You are constantly getting colds.
- You often horn to tell other drivers off.
- You wake up earlier and earlier.
- You hate your commute before going to sleep the day before.
- One side of your face is ageing faster than the other.
Does travel mode make a difference?
In general, researches show that commuters who use bus or train have more dissatisfaction than those who use their private car. Nevertheless, commuters who use their private car have more dissatisfaction than the ones that walk or bike.
Other studies are contradictory in this point. Some of them show lower levels of satisfaction on people who walk to work. They don’t determine whether those people were walking because they didn’t have other option, which could have an impact in the survey.
Commuters who use a combination of transports are generally more stressed.
Cost of commuting
When we think about the cost of commuting, we tend to see only the obvious cost related to petrol or public transport tickets. But if you do a deeper exercise, soon you realize that those costs are only a small part of the whole picture.
Let’s calculate the yearly cost of commuting 1 mile one way per day. Assuming a cost of 40 cents per mile, it makes $200 per year. Now we have to add the cost of your time. It takes around 6 minutes to drive 1 mile during the rush hour, which means 50 hours per year. Assuming that the value of a commuter’s time is $30 per hour, we have $1,500 per year. Adding both concepts, we see that each commuting mile costs $1,700 per year!
Now, if we consider a family with two members commuting 15 miles to different areas, or at different times of the day, so they can’t share one car, the calculation after 5 years of commuting reaches the amount of $255,000!
But, as mentioned above, there are many other indirect costs. Commuters who are stressed have a much lower productivity at work, causing costs to employers. Additionally, if a commuter has health problems, they come together with medical costs as well. These kinds of costs are difficult to measure, and estimations differ from one study to another.
On the positive side, for some people, commuting may result relaxing and productive. They assume that it is a feature of daily life, and they try to make the most of it. But if you are not one of these people yet, check out some of the solutions below.
Try to reduce your commuting time
If you want to go to the extreme, move to a house next to your work. Or even easier, find a job next to your house. These two alternatives will reduce your commuting time for sure.
You might not have the chance to go that way for now. In that case, you can try to convince your boss to have flexible working schedule, so you can avoid the rush hours. Another option is to promote virtual reality meetings, and try to do some work from home. These options could bring benefits to your company also!
Another good tip is to organize your clothes, breakfast and other small tasks the night before. It might sound silly, but doing this you can really save some time, and reduce your stress in the morning
Don’t waste your time during commuting
Time is the most important resource in our life, so I believe you don’t want to waste it. If after all, you have to spend some time commuting, try to use it positively.
Remember, safety first! If you drive, use the tips below only with hands free apps.
Work productive time
You can prepare to shift your mindset, and be productive once you get to the office. Try to draft emails, refine your To-Do list, read company news, or track accomplishments.
You can use this time for your personal growth, or to listen for inspiration. Use this time to do your meditation. You can also increase your network socializing with other commuters. Learn something new, or read a novel. Or simply listen to your favorite music and relax.
Use the time as exercise
If you have the chance, walk or bike to work. Not only you will feel better, but you will help to reduce the air pollution.
New technologies could bring new solutions in the near future. Some of them are quite impressive, like The Boring Company by Elon Musk. They want to build tunnels to improve transportation of private cars. Other companies like Cabify or Uber have a different approach to the problem. They prefer to reduce the traffic by car sharing. Who knows, maybe this is the first step before nobody owns a private car. It could be a solution not only for commuting, but also for air pollution.
More futuristic options come with the so called urban air mobility. Electric aircrafts and personal drones are already a reality.
If commuting is proven to be such a painful thing, what is keeping us commuting then? I don’t know whether it is a kind of misconception about what is reasonable, or just that we prefer to stay within our, sometimes horrible, comfort zone excusing ourselves saying “you know, after all, 45 minutes is not that much”.
What will people think about our current commuting system in 100 years? I bet we can guess the answer, and it is not very promising.
If you are aware of the problem, just go crazy and make the first step to solve it. This is the well-being revolution. Let’s lead this positive tendency!