At the weekend I read a very interesting article in the Sunday Times on extreme commutes of English people working in London. As both a Geographer and a Social Researcher I was very interested in this story. The article interviewed many extreme commuters about their daily journeys, some of which are astounding. One women working in business admin has a 215 mile round trip that took a 3 hour chunk out of her daily life. However that was nothing compared to 8 hour round trip from Sutton Coldfield to Heathrow for a 39 year old IT consultant.
Although these extreme commutes aren’t the norm, more than half of London workers commute more than 30 minutes and 1 in 6 more than an hour. I had a look for comparable Irish statistics and the 2009 CSO National Travel Survey states that average work journeys in Ireland were 30 minutes. However this report didn’t provide data on the proportion of workers having extreme commutes or break out results for Dublin workers. What I would suspect without seeing the data is that the extreme commute category has grown, driven by boom time property prices in major urban centres and current increased scarcity of jobs nationwide. Newspaper and TV reports I seen recently back this up.
If you do belong to the extreme commute category not surprisingly there can be many impacts on your life. In the Sunday Times’ article the most obvious initial impact was the cost of the travelling with annual rail tickets being more than £10,000 for some commuters. Researchers in Sweden found that if one partner commutes more than 45 minutes they are 40% more likely to divorce. Other researchers have found disproportionate levels of pain, obesity and stress in long-distance commuters.
Long commuting times aren’t good for friendships either with longer commutes being linked to social isolation. Apparently for every 10 minutes longer on a commuter train your life has 10% fewer social connections, scary stuff although you would have more time for Facebook ‘friends’. For every 10 minutes longer commute you are more likely to miss dinner, miss the school play and celebrate your wedding anniversary by text. Not surprising that the Swedish research found a higher divorce rate amongst longer duration commuters.
So what can be done about this? In the Sunday Times’ article all the featured commuters had white collar jobs. Surely with a little cooperation from their employers they would be allowed to work from home or is it more complicated than that? I know in Ireland the Dublin Transport Office has an initiative to encourage sustainable travel. As we can see from the above information this doesn’t just impact the environment or your wallet but a myriad of factors associated with the quality of people’s lives. Hopefully we can find suitable solutions for everyone in the way we work and travel so the quality of people’s lives can be improved.