Do we spend too much time commuting?Posted: September 23, 2010
I’m currently reading a new book by writer and journalist Jenny Sinclair, When we think about Melbourne: the imagination of a city. This fascinating book sets out to discover what makes Melbourne unique and, according to the cover blurb, ultimately concludes that it’s all in our collective imagination.
I’m only a little way into the book but a comment she makes – just an aside really – caught my attention and sent me scurrying to the spreadsheet. She’s strolling through Victorian era parts of Melbourne when she’s:
reminded that there’s another (Melbourne), in which workers with affordable houses in Sunbury or Hoppers Crossing have no choice but to drive for hours every day to get to their jobs
This passage reminded me of Richard Florida’s recent claim that commutes in the US are so long they’re injurious to health. I made the point in this post that Florida’s methodology is flawed and time spent commuting in the US is actually relatively short.
But what about Melbourne – is Sinclair’s understanding that many Melburnites “drive for hours” to get to work correct?
The accompanying chart shows the time taken to travel to work in Melbourne (one-way) based on VISTA data for 2007. It shows travel by all modes, including walk time, wait time and in-vehicle time.
It can be seen that more than half of all trips to work (54%) took 30 minutes or less. Only 12% of commutes took longer than an hour and only 3% more than 90 minutes. Thus only a small proportion of workers in Melbourne travel for hours to get to work.
Those that have very long trips are probably likely to be residents of peri-urban areas who commute long distances by train. In common with all public transport users they will also endure long wait times – 23% of all time spent commuting by train in Melbourne is spent waiting (the corresponding figures for tram and bus are 17% and 14%).
Some of the very long journeys will also probably be motorists who are “putting up” with longer travel times while doing something short-term like temporarily relieving at a branch office, making a field trip or who are in the process of adjusting to a change of job or house.
Given Melbourne is a city of four million people, it seems to me that commute times for the greater number of workers aren’t too bad. And they’re all the more reasonable when account is taken of the fact that, as I discussed here, households choose a residential location having regard to a range of factors, such as the job location of multiple workers, access to schools and many different social purposes.
What this doesn’t show is commute distances. Travellers time budgets tend to be relatively constant but improvements in speeds tend to lead to longer distances. I’ll look another time at journey to work distances.
BTW I’m about a quarter of the way into Jenny Sinclair’s book and enjoying it immensely. I’ll post a review when I’m done.