On Extreme Commutes

Every time I hear a story like this one I feel like the piece is trying to evoke sympathy from the reader (or in this case, the listener).

I'm sorry, but I just can't feel bad for people who make these ridiculous commutes. I agree that they are probably painful and awful and incredibly unpleasant, but at some point the person doing it needs to step back and simply decide if it really makes sense.

Nick Paumgarten wrote a great piece about two and a half years ago in the New Yorker on this topic. Penelope Trunk gives a nice slap in the face to the very idea that it's a good idea. I can buy into the argument that people make these commutes because they are very bad at calculating costs and benefits, especially when abstract value is involved. The other day, for instance, I asked a simple question to some very smart guys: if you commute 30 minutes to work each day, how many work weeks would you spend commuting per year? Neither had any idea off the top of his head (a pocket calculator will tell you the answer is about 6.5 forty-hour work-weeks).

I also think the problem is self-perpetuating. In my mind, a 60 minute per day round trip commute by car is very long and probably very far; but you'll hear other people say that it's actually very short. Nobody is going to be shocked if you commute 2 hours per day by car. When society reinforces the idea that this behavior is normal and acceptable, it stops being extreme and starts becoming mainstream. When people think about where to live and where to work, they probably discount the cost of the commute, because if everyone else is making long commutes, there must be some awesome value to it, right?


    On October 12, 2009 Steven said...

    It's not that people discount the cost of the commute, it's that the cost/length of a commute is just one of many factors people look at when choosing where to live. Life is a series of compromises and commute length is one of those compromises.

    Perhaps you live with a working S/O and this represents a compromise between each others jobs. Perhaps you were laid off and your new job changes your 20 minute commute to a 60 minute commute.

    Most people don't move when they change jobs, especially if they own their home or have kids in the local schools that they don't want to uproot.

    So, Rob, what are you going to do when the day comes (and it almost certainly will) when that great job with the 10 minute commute from your condo goes away and the only job you can find involves a 30 minute commute? Are you going to sell your condo (if you can) and move? And hope that a year or two down the road the same thing doesn't happen again? Or are you going to find a way to make that 30 minute commute?