Extended Commuting & Its Effects

How much does your commute cost you? Not simply in terms of money spent on whichever form of transportation you choose, but in terms of time spent. It has been said that ‘time is money’ and if this is to be believed, tons of money is squandered everyday between home and work.

Washington Post’s Wonkblog recently published an article breaking down the numbers in regards to the amount of time Americans spend in their car, on a bus, waiting for a train, walking, biking – stuck in between home and work.

In 2014 the American commuters spent an average of 26 minutes traveling to work according to the U.S. Census Bureau. This is the longest recorded time since the bureau began collecting such data in 1980. Back then it took the average American 21.7 minutes to commute to work – almost 20% less than 2014.

With 139 million American workers commuting in 2014, at an average of 52 minutes round trip, 5 days a week, and 50 weeks a year, annual time spent commuting nationwide can be calculated at 1.8 trillion minutes – or if you prefer, 29.6 billion hours, 1.2 billion days, 3.4 million years. Overwhelming, when you consider this time as wasted potential for productivity or enjoyment.

On one hand, roughly 25% of commuters have a trip of 15 minutes or less. On the other hand, almost 17% spend more than 45 minutes basically waiting to get to work. The bad news is that the percentage of commuters traveling more than 45 minutes is growing. In 1980, less than 12% of American commuters were traveling more than 45 minutes to work.source: US Census Bureau

Furthermore, in 1980, the number of people traveling more than 60-90 minutes was not even considered because of how small the sample size was. Once the census began recording such activity in 1990, 1.6% of commuters surveyed traveled 90 minutes or more. Over the next 24 years, that percentage would rise to 2.62% – an impressive 64% increase.

For these ‘mega commuters,’ the numbers are quite staggering. With spending 3 hours a day commuting, over the course of the year a commuter will spend nearly an entire month, 24 hours a day, in a car, bus, or train going to and from work. For 3.6 million American workers, this is a reality.

Compare this to 9 days for the average 26 minute-a-day commuter and one might ask, why? Why would an individual choose to work so far away from home? City-based homes are getting more expensive to live in and the workers who make those cities run are no longer able to afford the luxury of living there. A bigger house for the family, a cleaner environment, better schools – these commuters often sacrifice time in order to better the lives of those around them – but what toll does it take on them?

Studies show that lengthy commutes can contribute to a variety of health and social concerns including obesity, high cholesterol, divorce, depression and death. Additionally, these commuters are less likely to vote, improve their financial standing, and are more likely to miss work, so it doesn’t seem like the positives outweigh the negatives here. However, cycling to work seems to be a healthy idea.

If one could consider all the time that people spend commuting as transferable to other activities, Americans are collectively losing 1.8 billion hours of manpower each year during their commutes. This is time that could be spent productively, whether it be recharging or creating.

Finding a balance between work and home is a difficult art to master. It seems that sacrificing too much time by living far from work may not be worth it when all effects and studies are considered. Maybe try biking to work? Just some food for thought.

Written by Kyle Park Points

is a working father in New York City by way of Sarasota, Florida. He is a public transportation enthusiast, clean air advocate, lifetime recycler and frequent panderer. He also reluctantly tended to his family's compost heap for many formative years. He hopes to one day leave his daughter with a safer, healthier environment than when she was born - which shouldn't be hard since she was born in Queens, New York.

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