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You Don't Hate Your Commute, You Hate Your Job!

05/24/2014 12:41 EDT | Updated 07/24/2014 05:59 EDT
CP/GNM

It's the job, stupid!

You don't hate your commute, it's your job. A Statistics Canada survey revealed that workers who disliked their jobs were much more likely to hate their commutes than those who liked their jobs. Our hatred of the morning commute may be driven by our unsatisfactory jobs.

The General Social Survey in 2005, and later in 2010, quizzed thousands of Canadians across Canada about their satisfaction with various aspects of their lives, including commuting. At least 64 per cent of workers who greatly disliked their jobs were displeased with their commutes. On the other hand, only 10 per cent of those who greatly liked their jobs reported disliking their commutes.

Extensive surveys of workers in Canada have revealed that our love-hate relationship with daily commutes is much more nuanced than what we had believed it to be. Furthermore, public transit riders, who spend 63 per cent more time commuting to work than those who commute by car, dislike commuting even more, even when they commute for shorter distances than commuters by car do. Lastly, commuters who face frequent congestion, and not necessarily longer commutes in terms of distance or duration, report much higher levels of stress than the rest. These findings suggest that urban transport planning in Canada should move beyond the diatribe on commute times and instead focus on ways of making commutes more predictable rather than shorter.

Martin Turcotte, a senior analyst with Statistics Canada, has produced several insightful reports on commutes to work in Canada, relying on two separate waves of the General Social Survey. Mr. Turcotte is one of the first few researchers who pointed out the longer commutes by public transit relative to those by car. His findings about public transit's tardiness, which most transit enthusiasts hate to acknowledge, have largely been ignored by those in planning circles and others in municipal politics. Instead, an ad nauseam campaign against excessive commute times, wrongly attributed to cars, has ensued.

The dissatisfaction with work seems to be playing into the dislike of commuting. Mr. Turcotte used mathematical models to show that even when one controls for trip length and duration, those who disliked their jobs were much more likely to hate their commutes. It appears that our inherent dissatisfaction with present employment is manifesting in more ways than we were aware of. The anticipation of working with colleagues one despises or a supervisor one hates is contributing to one's lack of satisfaction with daily commute.

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Source: Martin Turcotte. Statistics Canada. Catalogue No. 11-088.

A key finding of the 2005 survey is that city slickers hated their commutes more than those who lived in small or mid-sized towns. This requires one to acknowledge the common sense explanations for why people hate commuting. The survey revealed that those who either commuted for longer durations or greater distances hated their commutes more than those who commuted for shorter durations or distances. At the same time, those who faced frequent congestion, and not necessarily longer commutes, hated their commutes even more.

The mobility dialogue in urban Canada remains hyperbolic. The discourse in Canada's largest city, Toronto, is even more animated and exaggerated. The media has caught on to the notion that Toronto has the longest commute times in Canada, while ignoring the fact that Toronto is also the largest labour market in Canada. In fact, the sizes of regional labour markets explain the difference in average commute times across Canada. At the same time, most Torontonians may not know that commuters in other large cities are even more contemptuous of their daily commutes. The survey revealed that Toronto commuters were the least likely of the six urban centres to hate their commutes.

2014-05-23-citycommutingdissatisfaction.png

Source: Martin Turcotte. Statistics Canada. Catalogue No. 11-088.

These findings should help contextualize transport planning discourse in Canada. Our focus should be on what we can change and improve rather than on what is beyond our abilities to influence. Transport planners cannot improve the employment satisfaction for millions of commuters, nor can they devise an urban transit system that will deliver shorter average travel times than cars. So the focus should be on making commutes bearable and predictable. This may cost much less than the expensive interventions we hear being proposed.

A transport network performance system that informs commuters in real time on their smart phones about accidents, breakdowns, congestion, and delays can be operationalized at a fraction of cost than building new freeways or subways. Consider that in the United States, smart phones, based on their location on the transport network, are delivered real-time amber alerts about possible kidnappings of minors. Extend the system to include real-time alerts for the entire urban transport network and deliver it to commuters based on their real-time location. This will help commuters plan and execute their commutes better and will reduce their dissatisfaction with commuting.

Communication and information technology to improve commuting has been in existence for years. What has been missing is imagination and the drive to achieve the possible.

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