The Cost of Your Commute

So many of us have commutes. A lot of people have long commutes that really result in a decrease in quality of life, at the individual, family, corporate, and planetary levels. Whether it is spending hours a day in stop and go traffic, belching smog into the atmosphere, or the cost to operations when people are late due to traffic, commutes cause a lot of problems. Worse still, many of them are unnecessary and would be considered absurd had the idea been considered carefully.

If you have the kind of job and work ethic that allows you to work from home, then your commute is probably making your life worse in a variety of ways. For many of us, commuting is an artifact of an earlier time and no longer really makes sense. While not every job can be done remotely, there are a lot of really good reasons to work remotely if you can.

Episode Breakdown

07:45 The ugly, ugly base statistics

The commuting population. In February 2014, there were a little over 139 million workers commuting in the US. 76 percent of Americans drive to work daily, mostly alone, with another 9 percent carpooling.

The length of commute. The average commute is getting longer and is currently around 26 minutes. The typical commute in 1980 21.7 minutes. The average American drives 16 miles to work. Given the average above, the number of people working, etc., this works out to about 1.8 trillion minutes in traffic. UK numbers are worse, but some of their mass transit options are better.

The raw price of transit. It is estimated that each mile you drive to work costs you $795 per year (assuming 34 cents per mile raw cost, plus salary) on average. Developers are on the high end of salary, so it’s worse for us. That means that if you have an average US commute, it’s costing you almost $13,000 a year in gas, car insurance, wear and tear, and lost time. That doesn’t include the other stuff we’re going to talk about.

The risks of travel. There are 6 million car accidents in the US every year. Around 2 million drivers experience permanent injuries from car accidents each year. In 2017, there were 37,133 motor vehicle fatalities.

15:10 The personal cost

While the average commute is 26 minutes or so, in many areas this is highly variable. This means that you can’t leave your house 27 minutes before you have to be at work and expect to get there. Realistically, your time lost to commuting is more than the “average” daily commute. The average US commuter lost 38 hours to traffic delays in 2011, costing a week’s worth of fuel. In urban areas with more than 3 million people, this average increased to 52 hours of delays a year. Nor does it cover other time sinks like warming up your vehicle in the morning, having to stop for gas, scraping your windshield, etc. The time cost is often hidden, but when you really look at the numbers, it has a rather profound impact on your schedule.

A 2004 study found that commuting was the least satisfying activity of all daily activities in a survey of 1000 women, falling below housework and work itself. Commuting to work is associated with increased blood pressure, musculoskeletal problems, lower tolerance for frustration, and higher levels of anxiety. A study by the RSPH (Royal Society of Public Health) indicated that 41% of those surveyed reported doing less physical activity, one third reported sleeping less, and snacking more.

Lots of financial blogs suggest bringing your lunch to work to save money. It absolutely can. However, this also limits you to a cold lunch or one that can be reheated in a microwave at best in most places. It can also result in you not getting to eat an uninterrupted lunch.

The lack of control over your schedule can often mean that you aren’t able to do things like workout. This gets worse, the further away from work you live.

You’ll also find yourself either getting up earlier to avoid traffic or getting home later because of traffic. Because you are probably working at least 8 hours a day, this means that the time lost either comes out of your non-work time, or out of your sleep time.

27:10 The career cost(s)

Take your yearly salary and divide by 2000. That’s on the low end for your hourly rate. Figure out how much time you spend in traffic and multiply. Expensive, isn’t it?

If you are physically going in to an office, you have to live close enough for the commute to be reasonable. This can mean that you can’t take a good job that is in your area, but not close by, simply because of the commute distance. If the local market gets worse at the same time housing prices get worse, then you may end up taking a loss on selling your house when you change jobs.

Makes it more likely that having a family, an illness, etc. will damage your career. Because you have to drive in to work, a sick family member (or a new one) can mean that you have to miss days when you might otherwise actually be able to be productive. While there is a place for being able to simply take a day off when a spouse, child, or other relative is sick, when the illness is chronic, a commute can make things impossible. You never know when someone in your family will get sick in this manner, either.

The office environment, unless you have a private office, is subject to far more interruptions than the average home environment. People will schedule you for more pointless meetings if it doesn’t require extra effort on their part. If you are remote, that can be a little harder to do, plus you can simply mute your microphone and just work if the meeting is a waste of time. In an office, you can’t do that. Really, it all comes down to more wasted time.

35:55 The family cost

Not only is the time restricted, but the rush to get to work on time really degrades the quality of the time. Similarly, night time is rushed, because the kids have to get homework done, eat, bathe, and get to bed at a reasonable hour. Whatever time is available for your significant other often is whatever is left after that.

Wherever you live, you have to live somewhere that you can both afford, and that is close enough to work. In many first-tier cities, this is becoming impossible. In many second-tier cities, it is rapidly getting out of reach for many professions. If you care at all about the future of your kids, you also have to be careful about picking an area with good schools. This dynamic is one big driver of suburban sprawl.

Daycare costs are very high, especially for very young children. Per, parents spend an average of $211 a week for daycare at a facility and $200 for care at home. It is very possible for a young family to have daycare expenses in excess of their housing expenses. It’s even expensive once the kids are in school. Their school day is far shorter than your workday.

When working from home, it’s not a good idea to be the only one caring for a young, sick child, or for anyone who is really ill and may need a sudden trip to the hospital. However, when kids are older, they don’t need as much from you. If you are working from home, you can realistically take care of a sick kid, while putting in a full day of work. This is especially important when you don’t get many days off or your vacation and sick days are combined.

There are a lot of studies on the impacts of urban pollution on humans (especially children). A lot of the numbers are a bit hand-wavy, but it’s generally agreed to not be a good thing. Similarly, noise pollution in crowded environments makes it difficult for some people to sleep. Depending on the city you are living in, you may also find that you can’t afford housing for your family in a safe area. This could mean anything from stolen bicycles to home invasions. It’s not so much that big cities are crime-ridden dumps, it’s that a job that requires to be physically present in the city, where you are competing with everyone else for the good spots.

46:10 The company cost

We’ve already talked about how commutes raise stress levels. The stress doesn’t magically disappear when the employee comes into the office. Higher stress levels contribute to turnover, illness, mistakes and lower job satisfaction. Further, the employer can’t really do much about commute-induced stress among employees other than getting rid of the commute.

We discussed how commutes create financial stress. Financial pressure can cause happy, fulfilled employees to leave. It also means that you’ll end up having to pay more to keep your best people.

If your office location is high cost and you don’t allow telecommuting, your employees will be high cost. This puts you at risk of being undercut on cost by cheaper competitors. It also restricts your options for employees at the same time.

Another benefit of a remote workforce is that one sick workaholic won’t make the entire office sick. This can be especially important for employees who have good reason not to want to be sick. In addition, negative or disenfranchised employees in an office will gossip. When telecommuting, this is less likely because they know conversations are often logged (on chat, for instance).

In most businesses, there eventually comes a point where you need your people available. If they are commuting, the time will come when you need them and they are stuck in traffic, snowed in, have a sick child at home, etc. This also has implications for your disaster recovery plan.

51:30 The societal cost

If you scale up the personal time lost to a societal level, commuting is a tremendous waste if it isn’t absolutely required. Considering that the average commuter wasted 42 hours and $960 in traffic, there are a lot of other places that time and money could go that would actually be helpful.

Because rush hour traffic happens for several hours in the morning and evening, with traffic dropping off significantly afterward, roads have to be built for maximum utilization. This means municipalities spend a ton of money on roads and other infrastructure, and have the option of either having terrible traffic or overbuilding roadways for peak traffic. While mass transit has helped this in some areas, even mass transit struggles when you have enough people coming in at the same time.

Most vehicles, when idling in traffic, still produce pollution. We’ve all heard about global warming, but particulate pollution is also a major concern. Bear in mind that this pollution not only goes into the general environment, but also into the lungs of commuters. Add in the pollution caused when extracting fossil fuels (or making batteries/power for electric cars) and the environmental impact is pretty extreme.

We talked about traffic deaths and injuries earlier, but these events also have an impact on society that is hard to measure. Not only do you have the very obvious consequences of injury and death, but there are a lot of hidden costs that happen over the following years. Medical bills may last for years, and it is extremely difficult on families for many years after a serious injury or death.

We talked about how going in to an office often serves to spread disease, but that’s not the only cost. It also reduces the amount of time people have available to exercise, reduces their food options, and makes them less physically active (they are sitting more). The long-term consequences of increased stress and exposure to pollution are harder to quantify.

IoTease: Article

Three ways IoT will change your commute for the better

This is the first in a series of blog posts from IBM about ways that IoT is changing commuting and traveling in general. It talks about changes to vehicles such as collecting data, connected cars, ect. as well as how roads are being updated with sensors to detect traffic patterns and optimize routes and road closures. It also goes into how this will advance the concept of smart cities. Think of a smart home at the city level.

Tricks of the Trade

Think about the value that remote work will provide you. This is something you can and should negotiate. Remember that you are taxed on income, not on time. If the value of the time saved exceeds the value of the income lost, you are coming out ahead, unless you have really bad finances. Plan and negotiate accordingly, because many employers are unable to move on income, but can give you the option of working remotely.

Editor’s Notes:

There are a lot of plosives, harsh consonants, from Will in this episode. He does have a pop filter, but the plosive is strong with him. Please bear with us as we are still working out the new microphone set up.

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