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Stress That Doesn't Pay: The Commuting Paradox (2004) [pdf] (econstor.eu)
140 points by ptd on Dec 5, 2019 | hide | past | favorite | 139 comments

> Contrary to the prediction of equilibrium location theory, we find a large negative effect of commuting time on people’s satisfaction with life. People who commute 23 minutes (one way), which is the average commuting time in Germany, would have to earn 19 percent more per month on average in order to be fully compensated.

When I worked in Manhattan, I spent the extra $1,000/mo. to live within a couple blocks of work, rather than a 45-min commute away off in Brooklyn like most people I knew. It's expensive to live next to work.

But here's the thing: I always felt guilty about it. That it was "unnecessary" money to spend, even though I had it. That it was irresponsible.

However, I knew from (painful) experience it was still the rational thing to do. Once you subtract time spent sleeping, at work, and "maintenance" (shower, tidying, etc.) you really only have maybe 5 hours a day of personal time max. If you commute 45 min each way... that's only 3.5 hours. And when you factor in that you need a couple hours to relax, eat dinner, etc. -- that's the difference between having time left over for a rewarding hobby or not, which qualitatively changes your life in a fundamental way, and keeps you sane at work. Whether it's going to the gym regularly, reading books, doing yoga or dance, whatever it is.

But it's still so hard to mentally justify paying such a premium for your own leisure time. It's really easy to tell yourself, no -- I'll save money, commute, and I'll still manage to find the time, it'll be enough... because you're optimistic you can have it all. But you can't. You'll lose your hobby or sleep or your happiness.

This is the justification for remote. You get the benefits of a full salary while avoiding close-to-work living costs and commuting time.

I spent a hellish couple of years in London living in a pleasant area but commuting to and from a startup near the centre, and since then I've been remote-only.

There are other trade-offs, but it's hard to beat for low stress levels and free time.

Working remote really is the ideal situation.

Commuting sucks, but so does living in a city. It's noisy and dirty and crowded. You can't own your own property and crime is much much more prevalent.

Owning a nice, quiet house in a nice neighborhood without the commute is just heaven, honestly. At least for me anyway.

You avoid the close-to-work living costs, and also the close-to-work living benefits.

I’d save time, but then I’d spend it driving into the city, anyway, to do most of the things I want to do.

clarification: I didn't downvote you. dunno why people would.

but if you feel like that, consider if you're living in the "right" place for this. "remote" could mean instead of living in san francisco, living in a small town far away. or heck, somewhere in europe, where I live in the very city center on a student budget.

This probably won't be a popular opinion here, but some of us actually want to live in San Francisco, and not just for the job market.

I'm curious what other trade-offs you've noticed yourself making. Can you share?

In my own experience with working from home, there are some insidious trade-offs. Especially if you are not closely supervised, or are your own manager in any way. I’ve spent the past 5 years working from home.

Social isolation is by far the worst part of it. We are social animals, and phone calls and voip meetings actually don’t cut it. If you (well At least if I) spend much time physically alone, I am lonely.

This causes all sorts of little problems. Including strain on your romantic relationships, as your SO becomes more and more central to your social world. As you can imagine, this is a recipe for countless problems. A kind of inertia appears, which makes it less and less appealing to leave the house. You want to see people less. You end up mixing up your work and leisure time (why are you working at 8pm? Why are you playing computer games at 10am? It doesn’t matter that’s why.)

There are ways to mitigate these of course. But they’re mostly just tricks. Like working in a coffee shop, or going for a walk in the mornings.

I think it comes down to the type of person you are. If you can get up every day, and crush work completely alone for a few hours, then use your extra leisure time alone productively, then keep an active social life (one good enough to compensate for the hours spent alone at home every day), then there are no trade offs. I am not. I’m easily distracted, I procrastinate, and mostly couldn’t be bothered to go out all the time to meet people.

Man all of those points are spot on.

Working remotely is fantastic from a cost perspective but it is very isolating and lonely. It's hard to communicate with the rest of the team, and requires specific strategies to make things work.

It's easy to maintain discipline and inertia when you're in the office, and can't fuck off to your bedroom to nap or play with the Nintendo Switch.

Still a better choice, IMO, but absolutely has downsides, and I'd consider going back to in-person office work for the right role.

> If you can get up every day, [..], then there are no trade offs.

I've been working remote-only for a couple of months now and did rather well on those parts: Doing sports in the morning, focussed working without slacking off - luckily, I can enter „work mode” as soon as I start my timer - and mostly spending the evening with friends or my SO.

However, I'm still feeling a growing sense of disconnectedness from my work and my colleagues. The feeling of „we're a team and building this together” over time changes into „annoying computer tells me to X”. We're having regular (video)calls, but the lack of social context definitely has a negative impact. 2-3 days of remote work would be optimal.

As you note, there are a host of quality of life trade offs all wrapped up in this.

After briefly experiencing the 101 commute in bay area very early in my career, I decided I wasn't going to do it. Since then I've made a point to live close to work - which has affected both where I've lived and where I've worked, as I also decided I wasn't willing to live close to an office park in the middle of nowhere to make this work.

No regrets at all, although it has always involved some expense. I'm very aware I have been lucky in the options I've had though, this can be very difficult to arrange in some situations.

I normally don’t like the time = money idea (not all hours are equally valuable), but for a commute it makes sense. You paid about 40 bucks to get back 1.5 prime hours of your life, plus the mental stress.

This worked out for you great and there's no reason to feel guilty about it. I on the other hand choose to look at things differently. I spend 45 minutes on a buss to and from work and am eager to utilize the time for myself. I read, I draw and meditate. Another aspect that works out is living in a more peaceful neighborhood, nothing like the craziness in Manhattan. But, yes, sometimes the trade off is worth the money.

Are you taking a luxury bus to work? Because on public buses, the only thing I can do without getting motion sick is listening to an audiobook or a podcast. I can't imagine drawing on it.

Not the OP, but for what is worth I also get motion sick while riding the bus and sitting at the same time. The solution is to just not sit, I use one hand to grab the bus bar or whatever those things are called and the other hand to hold a magazine or pocket-sized book. The same goes for tramways or trolley-buses. Interestingly enough I can read just fine and sitting at the same time while riding a train.

I used to get pretty motion sick too, especially growing up, but now I'm able to read novels fine on the bus and that thing feels like the wheels are square. Maybe a tolerance builds, who knows.

No, it's regular MTA service, not the greatest but gets me from point A to point B. I always pay attention to something other than the ride so I'm having a good time..

Strangely enough, I drove an hour to work before and found the time to be relaxing, no one bothered me, I could listen to audiobooks or podcasts and it gave me time to decompress before I got home to my family.

As an introvert with learned emotional intelligence, I find it draining dealing with people all day and I for the most part liked the people I worked with.

When I worked less than 15 minutes away from work, I missed the down time. Especially since I had just gotten married, lived in an apartment and wasn’t use to coming home to three other people - wife and two (step)sons — and I love my family.

Now that we live in a much larger house, and my wife knows me well enough not to take it personally when so just want some alone time in our home gym, it’s better.

Try an hour in LA and say it's relaxing lmao. Driving during rush hour is like going to war.

I’m in Atlanta - not exactly the worlds greatest city for commuters. But once you hit the interstate, you just get in the lane that doesn’t veer off and drive straight.

I bike to work which takes me 30 minutes each way. I consider this as my relaxation, workout time and time to myself to think. Of course I also have podcasts running. Sometimes Audiobooks too but that requires more focus.

If I had earbuds in all this time biking to work I'd be dead by now.

I am lucky enough to live in a city with separate bike paths sometimes crossing the traffic.

Bone cunductiin is a thing for about >=50$...

> When I worked in Manhattan, I spent the extra $1,000/mo. to live within a couple blocks of work

A distance of merely 5 miles can take rent in Austin from $2000 to north of $3500. San Diego and LA have similar (and worse!) gradients in places.

The problem is your rent competition is 4 tech bros rooming together. That's an awful lot of money pushing the prices up.

When I lived in Austin, I lived 10 miles from work and paid $1,300/mo mortgage for a new construction 2,000sqft house. The commute was 14 minutes at ~85mph, mostly on SH 45 in a sports car.

This was when SH 45 first opened up, so things hadn't yet built up around it to clog it up. Not sure what traffic looks like these days.

SH45 is a suburb crossover belt and is quite significantly away from downtown where most of the jobs and issues are.

How many decades ago was this? From what I've heard, things have become exponentially more expensive.

> How many decades ago was this?

Er... two. Now get off my lawn.

And traffic exponentially worse

I don't think LA has quite the same gradient problem. Rents are high, but every neighborhood (aside from straight up mansion neighborhoods where there aren't any jobs anyway) is going to have the same $1800-2000 1br apartments. Sometimes that apartment is nicer in some places, others more dilapidated, but the price point seems to be pretty constant all over town.

It's that time vs money tradeoff. If your life circumstances change... and I don't know what your situation is, but say you have a few dependents and you want them in specific schools or to have a yard or whatever... then the equation changes.

It's not necessarily an easy calculation to make since there are other subjective costs in choosing between two locations. I also decided to live very close to work and pay higher rent. It's not just higher rent though there is also greater noise, pollution, etc. I still think it outweighs the commute though. Commuting >1hr per day makes working feel much more like an awful grind to me.

Maybe the work day should be shorter instead.

Yep. I found a more expensive place closer to work that didn't necessitate me taking public transit regularly (though it is always an option if I need it) so I walk to and from work, and while the walk is about half an hour each way, it's always done on my own time.

Throwing on some music or a podcast helps me unwind while the exercise does its thing to clear my head. I also save 100+ bucks a month on a transit pass too, though my rent increase is not as bad as 1000+ a month, I feel in your case it is definitely worthwhile.

A lot of people don't even have the luxury to make this choice.

I think that people are aware of this.

> I spent the extra $1,000/mo. to live within a couple blocks of work

My understanding of communing was people commute for longer for a 'better' house, but don't realise a 'better' house doesn't create happiness as much as a shorter commute.

It very much did for me. Even though I can find plenty of jobs in the burbs, I wouldn’t give up my larger house where my wife and I have plenty of space of our own.

I love spending time with my wife, but I’m also an introvert who really craves having my own space. Even when my parents come up and visit it isn’t intrusive since we have a guest suite downstairs.

Also the “better home” also means a better school district.

Well maybe for that person but their dependents might be happier..

From the paper: An individual with a 60 minute commute has to earn 40 per cent more money to be equally satisfied with life as an individual who can walk to the office.

I found this very interesting, given the fact that I know a lot of people who work in major cities but live outside the city for financial purposes. Might make more sense to bite the bullet and pay high rent to live next to your workplace.

This is complicated for couples though, because it is hard for you and your partner to find employment in the same part of a city. So one of you will probably have to make a sacrifice.

I would be very interested in how remote work figures into all of this. Does the interaction with humans outweigh the benefits of being able to roll out of bed and be at the office?

This is basically how it happens in practice. Single people generally don't commute as much. People get this "happiness equation."

But, with a partner and kids, commuting becomes a greater good sacrifice. Depending on work location, a 60 minutes commute can mean a bigger house, better neighborhood and college savings.

Commuting affects kids too, they get less time with a more exhausted, stressed parent. Compromises are harder to make with five people.

This is one of the reasons urban architecture, with an eye to the economics of it all, are important. Architects tend to swim in abstract water. But, when they say things like "how people relate to and occupy their built environemt," I like to think they mean things like "*How people to get to work, and how awful it is."

IMO, these are exactly the kinds of measures we should have have governments, rather than gdp. Commute times/pleasantness, housing-share of income, etc.

For a city, knocking 10% off average commute time is on par with reducing crime rates or similar.

Cities often have rules that increase sprawl and help cause the long commutes. Here are some: - Not allowing mixed residential/commercial/office - Setbacks from lot lines, especially front and side. They increase cost of roads, sewer, water, electric and increase commute times for... vague aesthetic reasons? The fire code thing is a non-issue if appropriate building techniques and materials are used. - Not allowing simple density improvements such as duplexes/triplex/quadplex or garage attic apartments.

> This is complicated for couples though, because it is hard for you and your partner to find employment in the same part of a city. So one of you will probably have to make a sacrifice.

Yeah, I think this may be an under-appreciated factor. Also the cost and misery of moving house when you change jobs.

If the individuals literally walk into office, I also wonder how much of it is literally walking. I find walking has an outsized influence on my mood, much more than I expect a priori. (of course the stress from traffic and lost time must not help...)

Absolutely. I’ve come to realise two things about humans recently, that are quite obvious really. We are social animals, and we are walking animals.

> Does the interaction with humans outweigh the benefits of being able to roll out of bed and be at the office?

I wonder if this harrowing 911 call sheds some light on this question:


I don’t consider working hours proper human interaction. It’s professional interaction. Working from home is not recommended for every personality type.

Holy hell what did I just read

> Does the interaction with humans outweigh the benefits of being able to roll out of bed and be at the office?

Depends on the personality of the person and the health of the rest of their social life.

I lived out of a suitcase for 4 years preferring to hotel it rather than commute 1.25hrs each way. It worked for me because of the contracting arrangement legitimately let me take the employees non-reimbursed biz expense deduction for the out of town days. Living away from home sucked though, and when the president got pissed off at Hollywood and successfully lobbied to kill the non-reimbursed biz expense deduction it no longer made financial sense. On the bright side I see more of my family now.

So many resources are freed when remote working that can be invested in other activities that involve human interaction.

Yep. And the interaction with coworkers is shallow/guarded because of the nature of work.

It’s like longing for the interaction offered by a long flight. Chat with your neighbor, get on with your day.

Why not have social interaction with people you look forward to interacting with? (Does anyone go to the office to hang out on their day off?)

It would be interesting to know if people, on average, actually do put those resources towards human interaction, and whether it improves their well-being overall.

... or live in Kanto countryside and commute to Tokyo by Shinkansen.

That would be rather expensive surely?

I did that for a while (like two months). The shinkansen pass for Odawara->Shinagawa/Tokyo costs about 70,000 per month (it's a bit more now due to the tax increase). May be reasonable if your workplace is close to Shin-Yokohama or Shinagawa or Tokyo, but if you're in a place like Roppongi, there is very little benefit. Plus the shinkansen that stop in Odawara don't run very often, and the last train is pretty early. (Don't know about the other shinkansen.)

Not particularly, since most employers reimburse your transportation costs (generally up to 50k yen, but I’ve seen 100k).

vs living in a similar sized place inside Tokyo itself?

I'm not very familiar with Tokyo real estate but prices far west on the Chuo line are quite reasonable, but even out there you're still much closer to the CBD than Shinkansen commuting from eg. Saitama or Kanagawa. (Of course I'm not arguing about quality of life, sailing in from your minka in the real countryside on the Shinkasen sounds great if I could afford that life)

"An individual with a 60 minute commute has to earn 40 per cent more money to be equally satisfied with life as an individual who can walk to the office"

This mixing of units is enough to call the whole paper into question. 60 minutes - by what mode. There is no reason you can't walk 60 minutes to work even though I don't know of anybody who does.

I have walked to work before, it took me about 40 minutes. I have also drove the same distance, takes about 12. I can take the bus which takes about 30 minutes (including 10 minutes walking to/from the stop). A helicopter could probably do it in 5. You can imagine other ways I could get to work with different travel times (practical is not a requirement).

There are affordable houses ($172K to $306K) near my workplace that are close enough that you could commute by pogo stick or pole vault.

I'm farther away, at unicycle distance.

Did you read the paper to find their definition of commute?

I commuted for almost 20 years in the NY Metro area. My journey, on one of the least reliable mass transit lines, took 4 hours from my day... if it was on time. I was well-paid and lived in a nice home, in a great neighborhood. The real problem with this commute is it takes over your life. During the work week, there is no me time, no time for fun or hobbies. I would sandwich in workouts and some downtime to unwind daily, but I was deeply sleep-deprived. Sure, I slept on the train and meditated, but the lack of reliable transportation on a daily basis really retarded any progress on those fronts. And that impaired my ability to fully enjoy my family, actively participate in my kids' upbringing and to genuinely enjoy life. I kind of had it all, yet, that darn commute raised my stress levels so high, it was ruining every aspect of life. I drank more than I wanted, and endured marital discord.

Moral of the story is look at your commute as the top factor determining your quality of life. Think well and hard about that extra 30-60-90 minutes because it means a bigger house and backyard.

I've been doing the same for only 4 months and I can feel a lot of similar feelings beginning to set in. I have no idea how you managed it for so long!

I'm always surprised seeing so many people accepting to commute.

The time waste, the money waste, the environmental waste.

I guess they got sold on the idea they can listen to a podcast on the way to the office...

It's important to think about what we do. Even if we are taken by the storm of life. Pause, and think about what you are accepting to put yourself through.

Counterargument: in SF I'm always surprised by the number of people who choose to live in areas they dislike (ex: the Tenderloin), paying astronomical rent, and never being near green space, just for the sake of their commute.

I pay the price of a 1-hour commute each way every day, but I live in the Sunset right by Golden Gate Park (imo one of the best urban parks in the country), and every night when I get home I have the peace of the trees, while still technically being in the city and having plenty of walkable restaurants, groceries, and services. I also get 850 square feet for the same price that many in worse areas of the city pay for 350, and on the weekends I'm already right by the park and the beach. Additionally my wife and I both feel safe walking around at night and frequently go for walks after dinner, and when we lived closer to downtown we couldn't really do that.

In my experience people (myself included) tend to mostly deal with what's near them when thinking about spending their free time. That means for folks living _in_ the city they rarely end up experiencing the parks and never get away from the crowds that create such a feeling of anonymity. I didn't even know what I was missing out on until I made the move, and despite my frustrations with my commute I wouldn't trade it back and neither would my wife.

I wonder how much your comment applies outside of SF?

I live in Cambridge MA, walking distance to the biotech capital of the world, and I can't relate to any of your listed downsides of city living except the astronomical rent.

Boston (and metro) is better about green space than SF IMO. I lived there years ago in the West End where Thoreau Path was. There's also https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emerald_Necklace

Rent was indeed astronomical, but I could walk to work in the financial district in 15 minutes.

I guess I'm in the minority here, but I genuinely enjoy my commute to work. It's the sole reason I turn up.

With my new place of work I pass through rolling hills, farms, vineyards, rivers, and by the time I get to the office I am delightfully refreshed and my heart is pumping.

When I was in London I would traverse the same distance, but loved weaving through the narrow traffic, sprinting up the small hills, passing over the river and then racing through central, fighting through the markets, and feeling absolutely elated by the time I got into the office.

For this reason alone I always place myself at least 15km from my work place. Its a nice transition between working mode and home mode, and its a good way to separate the two.

Plus it's easier to justify home office to the boss on those super treacherous days.

Right, it's not like you could make your own path of walking, riding a train, a bus or your own car wherever you want, on your own terms by not having to commute every single day.

But hey, good thing you have a beautiful scenery on the way to the office. It's rarely the case for most commuters.

"With my new place of work I pass through rolling hills, farms, vineyards, rivers, and by the time I get to the office I am delightfully refreshed and my heart is pumping."

Wow, that's incredibly fortunate! I go up a bunch of urban hills in my old vehicle, people drive sub-optimally/selfishly often, and there's not ample parking so I park in a shady neighborhood to walk 3 minutes in to my office.

Or they are not willing to accept the loss of income stability from living in a place with lower commute times, which also end up having fewer opportunities to earn income. Plus once a spouse also needs to work, both people's income streams and future stability of the income streams have to be managed.

Due to increased volatility and concentration of places with sufficient income earning (and increasing) possibilities, this manifests itself as cities with lengthy commutes for all except the luckiest.

Edit: Also compounding this is that school quality is roughly a measurement of the income earning abilities or wealth of the children's parents. It's known to everyone that sending your child to a school with children who have lower income parents results in lower chances of success for your child. If you want to mitigate this, then your options are to send the child to a private school, which are very expensive in cities, or move sufficiently far away so that you are geographically too far from the children with lower income parents and so the public schools' children end up having parents that have similar earning potentials.

> I'm always surprised seeing so many people accepting to commute.

I'm more surprised by the surprise itself. For most, the better place to raise a family and the better place to work aren't near each other. Surely it is clear why the commute is an acceptable trade-off to optimize those other things.

It's important to think about why others do what they do instead of assuming it's irrational.

And let’s not forget that not everyone is single. If we moved close to my office, we’d be further from my wife’s office.

The trick to commuting is making the best of it. Then it's not a sunk cost or lost time. It's also not an environmental waste if you consider the alternative mode of transports.

I have the luxury of taking a 1.5 hour ferry ride in the morning and evening. I sometimes alternate and use the train for a 50 minute commute. Regardless I always get a seat and read a book or work on my laptop. In fact most of my productive work gets done on the ferry. Work is for socialising.

Wouldn't trade the commute for a shorter walk to work.

>The trick to commuting is making the best of it. Then it's not a sunk cost or lost time.

Assuming one wants to spend time with family/friends/exercise, and wants to sleep 6 to 8 hours, I don't see anyway to make a long commute not be lost time. I consider commutes part of my work time, as I'm not free to do what I want. I'm paying with my commute time + work time to buy free time.

If you commute by car you have to payon to the road and can’t do anything else. If you use public transportation it is probably too crowded and inconvenient to read a book or watch a podcast. Situations as described by you are exception, not the rule. Of course self-driving cars would solve this.

I think the issue is that a lot of people already live in Major metros where commute time is inversely proportional to rent and just accept it as a fact of life. This is why I refuse to move to LA, SF, NYC, Seattle, etc.

I currently live 15 min away from my job in Miami and pay less than $1k in rent. It is amazing being able to wake up at 8:30, dress and pack lunch and still get to work before 9am.

Most people here who have longer commutes are because they own homes and don't have the luxury of moving around like me, but then again, the own homes which is pretty hard in the cities I mentioned.

Honestly my first filter when job hunting is commute times and the price of rent within a 10 mile radius of the office.

Having had a 90 min commute at one point I realized that it just wasn't worth it unless you could have flexible hours to avoid rush hour and even then it's almost 900 minutes a week lost to "just" driving.

It isn't always a simple choice.

I hate commuting, but if my spouse's job preferences are in city A and mine are in city B, 50 miles from city A, commuting is the best possible option (vs taking inferior jobs or separating).

Right now, in the US, in many cities, we have minimum parking laws, that say you need X number of parking slots per commercial space or per work area, within some maximum distance of a couple thousand feet or less. And, yet there's absolutely no minimum living space/apartments/residentials to speak of.

This is completely backwards. We should have minimum living space requirements within every work place. If you want to regulate things, regulate it well: No places to live, then no places to work. If there were 1 place to live within 500 ft for every 1 job, then we wouldn't have this situation where most of the population has to commute 2 hours every day polluting the planet with overly long commutes that could be 10 or 20 times closer. Imagine the reduction in c02 if people were traveling 20 times fewer miles every day.

Which was some of the thinking behind the classic attempts at "company towns". On the one hand, yes reducing commutes is a public good, but directly or indirectly connecting your housing to the company you work for has it's own problems (including just the basic problem that your whole life shouldn't have to revolve around where you work). As with most things, you have to be careful what you incentivize.

"company town" is a small town phenomenon. Superstar metros are the ones that need regulation that promotes building of housing units.

Just because we most associate the "company town" era most with (relatively) small towns (and that wasn't always true, both Detroit and Chicago, as two wildly different examples, have been accused of being company towns in different ways and at different times), doesn't mean it isn't an applicable comparison even to "superstar metros".

The "Google bus" issue in SF certainly didn't make SF a company town, but it did raise the specter of how willing a large enough company can be to routing around a city's infrastructure rather than work with it, stratifying public transit services in complicated ways that caused a lot of real grief for non-Google employees, just as non-employees in many a company town would have had mobility issues.

>The "Google bus" issue in SF certainly didn't make SF a company town, but it did raise the specter of how willing a large enough company can be to routing around a city's infrastructure rather than work with it,

What exactly are they supposed to do? Stage a violent revolt of the local government? They're a big company with a lot of money, but that doesn't give them control over the local politics, so there's only so much they can do about the transit situation. Public transit in America is notoriously horrible, and no single corporation could possibly fix it, so it makes perfect sense for them to hire some buses to help their employees commute faster. They're helping keep many, many cars off the road by putting people into buses, and yeah, it's unfortunate that non-Googlers can't use the buses, but if people want better public transit, then they should start voting for local politicians who will improve public transit. People don't want to do that just about anywhere in America, so this is what we get.

As one easy counter example, Microsoft spends a lot of money directly into King County transit options (and has done so regularly for a long term relationship), and "money talks" to politicians. It's a lot easier for politicians to be "pro-public transit" if they don't have to fight so much for how to pay for it.

(That has its own issues in the entangling of corporate and political interests, of course, as there are no perfect solutions when capitalism is involved.)

>It's a lot easier for politicians to be "pro-public transit" if they don't have to fight so much for how to pay for it.

They don't have to "fight" to pay for it, they just need to use tax money to do so. The problem is that voters don't want that. Voters are perfectly happy to massively subsidize infrastructure for cars (those roads aren't free), but they don't want to subsidize public transit, and claim that public transit should somehow survive on its own (even though roads don't).

>as there are no perfect solutions when capitalism is involved.

There's nothing "capitalistic" or "free market" when it comes to the road system in this country. It's purely socialism. Charge use-based tolls for every road driven on and things will change quickly.

the point is not that you would remain there forever. You want housing to be something that you can relatively easily switch from. but there should always be a close option, we dont want people getting stuck, commuting vast distances everyday

Most people don't consider housing to be something that can be easily switched. Housing is typically considered best when it is not commoditized. (That's even before you get into the fact that housing is also hand-in-hand with wealth, and long term housing ownership is seen as an economic dream/right/baseline.)

this makes absolutely no sense. just because there's a living space 500 feet from a job doesnt mean your job and your place to live are that close

I've been working remote for 8 years and so my commute is 0 mins. But in my experience companies that allow remote work have caught on to this commute time==money dynamic and have adjusted their offered compensation accordingly. More than once have I had or heard the conversation that "well, you have the perk of no commute + living in a lower cost area, so based on that the compensation target for you is X - Y", where Y is $10-20k less.

The question I wrestle with: is it fair?

1. For living in a lower cost area, no. If I live in SF I benefit/pay a premium for living in a nicer area. That should have nothing to do with compensation (unless they are located in SF and need me close by).

2. For not having a commute, maybe. I think it is fair for a company to pay a premium to have someone onsite. But that premium should be the same whether I walk 5 mins to work or drive 50 miles.

I think it's a mistake to frame this with respect to 'fairness'.

If you were another company instead of an individual you would not be having this discussion with your employer.

Would they try to bring the price of IT equipment down, with the argument of a shorter delivery route, if they were doing business with a retail business close by their office?

For HR the best outcome is to get the best people possible for the lowest price possible.

The best outcome for you as an employee is to get the maximum compensation + benefits + bonuses for the least amount of your time/effort.

For the archetype factory employee, their value grows linearly with time spent working. For a knowledge worker the output of a small team of 10/20 people could generate orders of magnitude more, the time spent is not relevant what matters is the value adding output.

So if you want to think in terms of fairness don't frame it in terms of the 40 hours a week, frame it in terms of the profit generated or money saved as a direct result of your output.

> frame it in terms of the profit generated or money saved as a direct result of your output.

As I pointed out here[1] this is hard to do and no company does this. If you can find a way to quantify your value to the company, that's great. 90+% of the cases I've seen where people do it, they're making wild assumptions that no employer would buy, though.

> Would they try to bring the price of IT equipment down, with the argument of a shorter delivery route, if they were doing business with a retail business close by their office?

No, but they would bring the price down if they could buy it cheaper from a competitor. If you live in a low COL area, they could try to argue that they can find other employees in your area for whom they could pay less than what you demand, and those people would still get paid more than the average in that area.

There's a reason outsourced employees in other countries don't get paid as much as they do in the US. Do not expect that you can change that dynamic easily.

Of course, if you can demonstrate that it'll be hard for them to find a remote worker with your (perhaps rare) skills, then your argument would be more appealing to them.

[1] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=21685035

> "well, you have the perk of no commute (...)"

I guess my belief that employers should pay for commute time of their employees wouldn't fly with them.

Why should employers pay for that? It's the employee's choice where they live, not the company's. If the company bought some company housing and had employees live there, then your idea would make sense. But why should someone who chooses to live 2 hours away get paid more than someone who lives 5 minutes away?

However, I think there are some good arguments to be made about where the employers choose to locate their offices.

I live in NYC so perhaps I can give some perspective on why we put up with this. My commute is ~40 minutes from Brooklyn central, and relatively painfree. I work in Midtown. A lot of my friends commute 1 - 2 hours from South Brooklyn, and one co-worker is commuting from outside of Queens(!).

A lot of jobs that pay decently aren't located in the outer boroughs. We could move closer to the city but we simply don't make enough and/or don't have the skills to make enough. Rents, especially near train stops are reaching 2 - 3k easily. Also, many jobs are still on the fence about letting more staff work remotely, although tech is changing this. Thus, we put up with crowds, delays and smelly train cars.

I hope this brings a bit more light into things.

I also live in NYC (Manhattan, specifically), and I read through this with my own lens: married, with a kid, another on the way. I live 13 blocks from my office.

Some things that cause me grief: 1. NYC's city income tax on top of federal and state tax 2. The competitive public school system that disadvantages many and doesn't appeal to my parental administration efforts either 3. The pay-or-wait-for everything kid-related -- 2s or 3s programs that ask for astronomical amounts of money 4. Swampy summer urban heat island 5. AIR quality that probably isn't as good as it could be. If you ever walk on Madison Ave. during morning or evening rush hour, you've inhaled the avenue-wide plume of diesel smoke that saturates the air

In some suburbs things flip in the other direction: 1. Public schools that are supported by high property taxes 2. Rather large fees for relatively shorter commutes --hundreds of dollars per month to commute 40 minutes to/from Grand Central or Penn 3. Lower income tax burden

I'm looking at houses in the suburbs now, and what's difficult to quantify is the level of happiness associated with gaining things like fresh air, extra space, a yard for kids to play and keep themselves busy, closer proximity to family (both sides), and etc.

I think there's lots of folks who positively and negatively value similar things and happily eat the commute time up (as me time, or personal time) in exchange for the some of the benefits I mentioned.

It has been noted that most people consider a commute about 30 minutes or least each way every day normal. Transport mode doesn't matter: primitive villages walk that long to their various fields or whatever. As we add faster modes of transport people move farther out to maintain that time.

>As we add faster modes of transport people move farther out to maintain that time.

Exactly, which is why widening highways to alleviate congestion is a waste of time and money. More people will just move farther out, canceling out all the savings had by adding the extra lanes.

The time savings get cancelled out, but that's an incorrectly narrow view of things. Everyone who moved farther away concretely benefits in terms of bigger and/or cheaper accomodations. There is still a net benefit, just not in commute time.

> Everyone who moved farther away concretely benefits in terms of bigger and/or cheaper accomodations.

The rest of us suffer, in terms of increased environmental impact and ongoing infrastructure maintenance cost. We should not subsidize this behavior.

Nope, even the people who don't move benefit from reduced housing costs as people moving away frees up space.

Wrong. If you want more space, you need to build more densely. All this does is drive up housing prices farther away, encouraging people to move even farther away. The whole thing is completely unsustainable.

Let's do a thought experiment. Today, Highway A that links suburban region A to city B has 2 lanes and there are Y number of people that can make a certain commute in a certain amount of time.

We widen it to 4 lanes. We get 7-10 years of reduced congestion that steadily gets worse until we are at the same level of congestion.

Casting aside that temporary reprieve, which in itself adds value, the carrying capacity even at current levels of congestion has doubled, do we've now opened up another Y number of people with the option to make that commute.

So when it's all said and done, the number of people that can make that commute has doubled, even if the time it takes remains the same.

Still a win in terms of opening up options and mobility. More trucks can make deliveries. More people can commute to work.

The temporary reprieve's value is probably a minute or two each direction saved tops. The cost for that is also not paid for by the people using it.

>The temporary reprieve's value is probably a minute or two each direction saved tops.

Do you have a source for that? How could you possibly know without knowing current distance and average speed?

The problem with that logic is opportunity cost. What improvements to public transit could have been done with that thick wad of cash? Often (usually?) ones that would open up options and mobility to far more people.

Actually not. The highway allows undense spread out development. While you can build transit to those areas, to have useful transit (meaning stop every 5 minutes, not too many detours, and few transfers) you end up spending far more capital to build lightly used lines that are expensive to operator because so few people are on them (even if we assume private cars are illegal there wouldn't be many riders).

Note that not dense is the important part of the above. If you are willing to allow dense development (which most zones in the US prohibit) everything changes.

>If you are willing to allow dense development (which most zones in the US prohibit) everything changes.

Yep, this is the answer to it all: we need to build much more densely, and people need to get used to not having a big McMansion with a gigantic lawn.

It's a difference if you make a 30 min walk, pass by a bakery in the morning and the supermarket or a restaurant in the evening. You can't have that in the car, or train.

I don't understand - why can't I?

I have a 40 minute work to work that passes by a bakery. Sometimes I take the bus which passes right by that same bakery. Sometimes I drive which passes by the same bakery. I have stopped in that bakery while driving, and while walking, it make no difference. In fact the car is more flexible because a 5 minute detour lets me stop by a supermarket that is an extra 15 minutes while walking. (the bus only comes every 30 minutes so stopping in the middle to run errands isn't practical even though it detours to that supermarket)

Assuming you're in a city made for humans:

You pass by the bakery. You're not hungry… but it does look delicious. You go back, look through the windows again -- and decide you are hungry!

If you're in a car, you don't stroll around. You drive where you want to drive. Even discovering new things is hard since the people behind demand you don't slow down.

(this is loaded with personal experience and preference, I can perfectly understand this doesn't match yours.)

It's a surprisingly weird experience when you've been driving a particular commute for a long time, and then someone else does the driving one day.

As a passenger, suddenly you become aware of all these objects and sights that you simply couldn't spare the time or attention to look at when busy in the driver's seat.

One of those rare cases where driving is healthier than walking.

I agree a car is more flexible and it scales UP very well to allow for longer distances but it scales OUT very poorly. For a unit of sidewalk or road, you can support an order of magnitude more people walking to their work, or stopping by the bakery, vs driving to their work and filling up the parking lot. ie. It works great if you or a few people are the only ones doing it. But if everyone is doing it, you all end up miserable sitting in a traffic jam, or frustrated that you cannot find a parking spot at the bakery.

Part of it could be estimated to be stopping, parking (or drive thruing); accumulating several minutes.

Fun recent anecdote, a coworker passed me in his car while I was walking to work, because of the time for him to park, we arrived at the coffee machine at the same time.

I personally don't think 30 minutes would ever cause me some kind of issue. Currently my commute is 1 hour 10 minutes, through a combination of walking, bus and train (i live in europe) and I am rather unhappy with it, although it is something i've gotten used to.

Not sure why this is downvoted. People move farther as it becomes easier to commute.

Hence the suburban movement in the last 50 years or so.

Here in the bay area, real estate in the farther areas of east bay (e.g., Livermore) have been in high demand as there has been talks of Bart expansion to Livermore.

A solution is that is so much cheaper than building wider roads is just to allow easier upzoning and higher density buildings. San Francisco's housing problems are all self-imposed.

The transportation mode is critical for a commute. The time spent commuting can be mitigated somewhat if you are active in the process.

As an example, I live relatively close to my office in the suburbs, and most days I walk ~50 minutes each way for my commute. I could drive it in 10-15, but my family has reduced from 2 to 1 cars this way (owning a car is expensive and a massive headache). I also spend far less time at the gym because I walk many miles per day just commuting, plus I feel fresher when I get to work. I can definitely say I am much more satisfied with this arrangement than if I was driving for the same duration. The major negative is less time at home with the family, which I admit is a challenge but one I've been willing to put up with for the other advantages.

I wonder how the equation would change if flex/remote options were available, eg. telecommuting 1-2 days/week. Imo the 5 days a week commuting grind is much more debilitating that 3-4 times a week.

Going meta, the inertial insistence on 'butts in the seat 5 days a week' needs to be disrupted. I know there are more startups and young companies these days that understand flex and telecommuting, however, this needs to flow into the large mass of old school companies somehow.

Didn't fully understand the statistical analyses tables in the paper because college statistics was a long time ago, but to me it seems like other variables had way more effect on life satisfaction than commuting time. To me those charts imply that having a partner (or being married) and having an education improve your satisfaction way more than adding subtracting 60 minutes to your commute.

If we're able to weight correlations of different life parameters with life satisfaction, where is the "how cost-effectively to maximize your satisfaction according to statistics" guide?

All my coworkers commute 40+ minutes to have a larger house for their family and a slower pace of life than in the city.

This seems like pretty biased against commuting. Is it because everyone here is salty about having to commute to SF or Silicon Valley because rent is prohibitively expensive?


>People spend a lot of time commuting and often find it a burden. According to economics, the burden of commuting is chosen when compensated either on the labor or on the housing market so that individuals’ utility is equalized. However, in a direct test of this strong notion of equilibrium, we find that people with longer commuting time report systematically lower subjective well-being. Additional empirical analyses do not find institutional explanations of the empirical results that commuters systematically incur losses. We discuss several possibilities of an extended model of human behavior able to explain this ‘commuting paradox’.

I suppose my mindset could change later; but I live a rather hectic and noisy life with small children (as I'm sure a lot can relate).

Having a 40 minute commute entirely to myself to listen to anything I want to (or silence) is almost a sanity check for me.

I'm definitely in no commute camp. My office is less than a 5 minute walk away from my apartment. It's literally a distance of two blocks. I'm in apartment right now for lunch cooking myself a meal.

Another data point: I know somebody who has a long commute (at least 2 hours a day), but commute by train and is allowed by his employer to work during his commute. He also works from home one day per week. Which sounds like an excellent compromise: he's not socially isolated by remote working; his commute time is included in his working hours; he can afford a nice home in a less expensive place.

Just the number of minutes is a very coarse measure.

Important for me are seating and no changes in public transport and by bike the route is important.

Looks like once air taxi or commutes proliferates, down town residential house prices will plummet

I just returned to a two hour commute instead of a 20 minute commute because of stress induced by the 20 minute commute job.

Is it ideal? No, is it worth it? Yes.

It's not a paradox, they aren't paying the full price for energy. Soon they will!

Not all commutes are equal. Self driving will change many aspects. You will be able to do recreational stuff while in the car.

That is absolutely wrong. I take a train for ~50mins and walk ~10mins. I used to just do the ~10min walk. Work/Life was so much better when I just did the walk. Sure I can read and listen to podcasts and play phone games, but what I'd really like to be doing is be with my wife and son, or really just not in transit.

I'll offer a contrast. For me 10 minutes wasn't enough because it made me feel like I lived at work. Now that I travel 45 mins the increased physical distance results in mental distance as well and feels incredibly liberating.

Train is a public environment. Train and self driving is totally different things.

Self driving will let you do things you can do while sitting down in traffic. Since I get carsick that means stare out the window. Basically, if you can't do it on the bus you can't do it in a self driving car either. With the bus you can talk to a stranger (which can be good or bad...).

A self driving car if anything makes congestion worse: people will send their car back home for free parking thus using much more road space.

> "Since I get carsick that means stare out the window."

Judging by the number of people staring into their smartphones on the bus every time I ride, only a negligible minority of people would have that disadvantage.

I was quite bullish on self driving cars about 5-6 years ago. As time passed by, and venture funding and media optimism seems to be drying out in silicon valley, I've been increasingly thinking level 5 is not going to happen in the next 20-30 years without significant legislative changes (e.g., dedicated roads or some other means of lowering the entropy for self-driving cars).

That's already available today on trains and airplanes. I don't find that time particularly useful for recreation or for working.

Mass transit also plays a huge role. An hour on the train is vastly different than an hour in the car.

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