November 9, 2014

Average Work Commute Takes Six Weeks a Year

When I was growing up, we lived on the south side of Delft, a Dutch city of 100,000; my mom went to work on the north side, a 30-minute bike ride away, or 10 minutes by car if the weather was very bad. Her friends and acquaintances were always amazed: "You work all the way on the other side of town?"

But that was back when school children and working people still came home for lunch. If you lived 30 minutes from work, it would be hard to come home, have a decent lunch, and come back in the time normally allotted for lunch, about 90 minutes.

In places where workers don't come home for lunch, it turns out about half an hour is the average commuting time. This is true across the board in developed countries (including today's Netherlands).

Average commute times by zip code

This map shows the commute time in the US by zip code (a click on the map links to the interactive version). The countrywide average commute is - drumroll - 25 minutes. Metropolitan areas, where traffic congestion is a major issue, typically have longer averages, but only for those commuting into the city from its surburbs or ex-urban sphere.

You can see this very clearly on the commuting map: places like St. Louis or Kansas City have a core with commuting times in the 10-15 minute range, surrounded by rings of neighbourhoods with progressively longer commutes, an occasional one topping 60 minutes.

The job at the end of an hourlong commute had better be worth it! It turns out about 30 minutes is at the long end of how long people are willing to go for their daily tasks, be it commuting to a cubicle, fetching water, or doing construction work. And it holds whether the commute happens on foot or by bike, car or transit.

This is why many large cities spawn sub- or ex-urban satellites with employment opportunities that make it possible for people to live closer to where they work, while still being reasonably close to the city centre. An example is the Route 128 corridor around Boston.

Still, if you do the average commute, that's one hour that you spend getting to and from work each working day. Added over a year, that's the equivalent of 6.5 working weeks.

Think of what you could do with an extra six weeks every year!

If you take the train to work, or are a passenger on a rideshare, you can at least read, deal with your email stream, or play games on your commute. If you drive the commute you can't do those things. (Note: I didn't say you shouldn't. I said you can't. Because you can't afford to take your eyes off the road. You really can't).

No wonder telecommuting is on the rise. The internet has been a great enabling technology in this trend. The numbers vary wildly (depending on how you ask the question) but surveys indicate that more and more people telecommute at least part of the time. About three million American professionals work from home full time.

The advantages are legion: you tend to be much more productive outside the office with its many distractions; you live without the commute stress; you can easily do short errands, like picking up your children from school; you save big on car insurance / transit tickets. And you can get up later and still get to work on time, and you can work in your pyjamas.

Sure, there's nothing like an actual meeting where everybody is in the same room. But you'd hope that such meetings don't happen every day (or how would you get anything done?) And some jobs require that you be physically on the job. But there are plenty of jobs that don't require that. So if you can do them from home, you'd improve your own life, and you'd free up road and transit space and make the commute easier for those who have to show up for work.



You may also like:
1. Drive like your life depends on it - it does.
2. Seven Ways to Keep Your Teen from Texting While Driving
3. How to Drive on the Wrong Side of the Road (and Live to Tell the Tale)


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