Super Commuting

Super Commuting

Tree Hugger has an interesting (and remarkably blame-free) article about super commuting up today.  Extreme commuting is up 95% since 1990, and is defined as commuting for more than an hour and a half round trip (i.e. 45 minutes each way).  

I thought that last bit alone was interesting.  My understanding is that the average American's commute is 30 minutes each way.  It hardly seems fair to define "extreme commuting" as a commute that's only 15 minutes longer!  Granted that's a 50% increase over the average, but it still seems a bit stingy.

The other interesting tidbit is the increase in extreme commuting since 1990, which dovetails nicely with the high tech revolution.  Funny isn't it, how the explosion of the internet, and the resulting boon in long distance communication technology (from online conference tools like WebX to Skype conference chats, IM, text messaging, cell phones, VPNs, and remote desktop logins) has apparently not affected our commute times.  And when I say "funny" I'm sure you understand I mean "soul crushingly poignant."

I myself was an extreme commuter for almost a year.  I commuted from La Conner to Seattle, a distance of about 90 miles.  That's an hour and a half each way - on a good day.  Which it never was.  TomTom GPS recently announced that the Seattle area has the country's worst traffic, and I believe it.  My typical commute was 2.5 hours in the morning, and 2 hours home at night.  That's assuming no unusual events, like a traffic accident or a massive unexpected snowstorm.  (My record is a 5 hour drive home, a drive so long that I took an hour long layover.  Snowstorm.)

Obviously, the carbon footprint of someone driving that far each way is shocking.  Everyone knows this.  And if anything, the cost of gas alone has a huge impact on our driving habits.  No one says "Ooh I would love to drive two hours each way!"  The problem is that typically the jobs are not located where the housing is affordable.   

Treehugger frames it as a choice between a bigger house in the country, versus a smaller house in the city.  Apparently they haven't seen Seattle's housing prices.  For many people (everyone out there on the road with me when I was commuting, for example) the choice is between a house in the exurbs, or a lousy apartment in the city.  If you have kids, kids who need a separate room, and a decent school system?  It really isn't a choice at all.

Extreme commuting used to be a matter of prestige jobs, or prestige homes.  These days I'm afraid it's more a matter of survival.  People are lucky to have jobs at all, and if those jobs happen to be far away, you just tighten your belt and get to it.

The revolution here needs to happen at the jobs themselves.  I'm going to pull a number out of my hat and say that 78% of white collar jobs could be performed from home.  But managers need to feel that sense of control, of supervision, that they get from having employees there in the office.  It's stupid, foolish, short-sighted, and ultimately more expensive for the companies themselves.  

Don't blame the commuters.  Blame the managers with control issues and a fear of technology.  I can guarantee you anyone stuck on I5 through Everett at 6:45AM would weep with relief at being allowed to work from home.

Creative Commons-licensed image courtesy of Flickr user Christine592