More Road Zombies Than Ever: 3.4 Million Americans are Extreme Commuters

driving extreme commute photo

Photo: Flickr, CC
"Commuting is a stress that doesn't pay off."
A couple years ago, I wrote about extreme commuters and how they spent a significant portion of their lives being road zombies (one of the guys profiled had put 186,000 miles on his 3 years old car because he woke up at 3:45 AM fives days a week to drive 200 miles to work... this adds up to 48 whole days a year just to commute). According to census data, there are more extreme commuters than ever, with 3.4 million of them just in the U.S., a number that is up 95% since 1990.
driving extreme commute photo

Photo: Flickr, CC
Some Spend More Time in Their Cars than Offices
Extreme commuting is defined here as "traveling a minimum of an hour-and-a-half to work and back". But that's just the minimum. We could create a new category for "
'extreme extreme commuters' since many people spend significantly more than that just to get to work.

This is what economists call "the commuting paradox." Most people travel long distances with the idea that they'll accept the burden for something better, be it a house, salary, or school. They presume the trade-off is worth the agony. But studies show that commuters are on average much less satisfied with their lives than noncommuters. A commuter who travels one hour, one way, would have to make 40% more than his current salary to be as fully satisfied with his life as a noncommuter, say economists Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer of the University of Zurich's Institute for Empirical Research in Economics. People usually overestimate the value of the things they'll obtain by commuting -- more money, more material goods, more prestige -- and underestimate the benefit of what they are losing: social connections, hobbies, and health. "Commuting is a stress that doesn't pay off," says Stutzer. (source)

Extreme commuting has high environmental costs, because it takes a lot of energy to move people long distances (and it's worse since most of them are alone in their vehicles), but there are also high health and social costs. The stress adds up and can lead to health problems ("raised blood pressure, musculoskeletal disorders, increased hostility, lateness, absenteeism, and adverse effects on cognitive performance"), as well as family problems (especially for parents with young children).

There is no easy solution to eradicate this kind of long-distance commuting, but educating people about the real costs of it can probably help some people realize that it's not worth it. You might imagine that the high-paying job 100 miles from you will make you so happy that you won't mind the daily commute, but unless it is temporary, the hedonic treadmill effect will soon catch up with you and all that you will be left with is the stress, boredom, and high environmental footprint.

I know it's not always possible, but as much as possible, try to live close to the place where you go often (work, family, friends, etc). You'll probably be happier than in a slightly bigger house an hour's drive away...

See also: Extreme Commuters Spend Their Lives on the Road

Via BusinessWeek
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