I used to commute four hours a day round trip, from New Paltz, NY to Manhattan. My community was the commuters who boarded the same bus every morning at 6:50 and again at 5:50, or sometimes 4:50. When I gave up the car and moved to the city, I had more hours in each day but I also had more energy and more money. The hidden costs of commuting are larger than they seem on paper. You compensate for the inconvenience and boredom by spending extra money for lunch or dinner, etc.
Co-workers of a friend who lived in the city tried to convince her to move out of the city to a small town where she would have a house for what she paid for two-bedroom apartment in the city. She did the math. She would have to buy a car, pay commuting and parking expenses, and maintain the house. And miss all the theater and other advantages of living in the city. In the end it would be a lower quality of living and more expensive.
The Pleasures of Commuting
What made commuting pleasurable was having space to think, quiet alone time but with other people like me. On the bus, everyone chatted for a half an hour or so, and then lapsed into silence napping or reading newspapers, returning to sociability a half an hour from the city. Sometimes I drove just to be alone for 2 hours. Cocooned.
But in the city when I commuted by walking 10 minutes to the office, that wasn’t enough. I needed more space between office and home to unwind. I took the long way around so it was 20 minutes.
For two years I commuted two hours a day from an outer borough in New York in a private van that carried 8 people. There were rules. You could say good morning or report on an expected absence, but otherwise, be quiet. It was the solitude people enjoyed. You could drink coffee but not eat. The smells of everyone’s food was intrusive. As soon as we got into the city and people started getting off and saying goodbye, talking and sharing began.
This led me to thinking about how to make commuting on public transportation, even for relatively short distances, more pleasurable. Spaciousness would be a start. The time to read is a major benefit for me and for many. The Kindle is a great commuting advantage thought I like a book. But even that pleasure would be more attractive with the assurance of having a seat. And uncrowded seat. Assurance of not to having to listen to someone else’s music or phone conversations for an hour or even half an hour.
One way to accomplish this would be more divisions like the old railroad compartments, so you not feel like you are riding in a cattle car.
It Costs Too Much
“It costs too much” is the first objection to making commuting on public transportation more pleasurable, but commuting in private cars also costs too much. We all pay for those roads and decreased air quality and emergency vehicles racing to accidents.
It’s really a question of accounting. If we withdrew support for commuting by car and put those funds directly into shared transportation, urban design, and transit route rehabilitation, we would all be richer.
That’s why I don’t favor making it easier for cars to get through streets and intersections, through tunnels and bridges. Make it safer for pedestrians and clearer for traffic to navigate, but discourage making it easier to commute by car.