The Four Hour Commute

Photo from the Washington Post.

On Sunday, The Washington Post Magazine ran a cover story describing the transport woes Washington DC-area residents face as they move further and further outside the suburbs in order to escape the ever-expanding sprawl. Marc turner, who is profiled in the article, drives 200 miles round trip from his house in Charlottesville, Virginia to his office in Tyson’s Corner, Virginia everyday. That translates into four hours that he spends in the car, isolated from friends and family.

In our work in Mexico City we have seen that commuters face daunting commutes like Mr. Turner’s, which significantly lower the quality of life. CTS-Mexico, our center in the Mexican capital, followed the case of Amalia, a typical commuter in Mexico City. Amalia lives in Huehuetoca on the periphery of the city, and spends 5 hours each day commuting by subway and bus to her job in the urban core. Each year Amalia spends 1,485 hours commuting to work. This is equivalent to more than six months of work, 8 hours a day without rest for weekends, holidays and vacations. Assuming that she will work for fifty years making the same commute, she will spend 9 of these years commuting. What’s more, she spends 25% of her salary to commute to and from her job.

Are there solutions to problems like Amalia’s and Marc’s? Well, yes. First, better design of cities would allow workers to live closer to their jobs. Second, better mass transport systems would free up traffic and allow commuters to move more efficiently throughout cities. And third, people need to start making better like-style choices. Marc, for example, has deliberately chosen to live 100 miles from his office. Why would he make such a choice? As Nick Paumgarten of the New Yorker writes, “People may endure miserable commutes out of an inability to weigh their general well-being against quantifiable material gains.” This logic might not apply to Amalia, whose economic prospects are more grim, but it certainly applies to Marc.

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