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The True Cost of Commuting (mrmoneymustache.com)
231 points by joelhooks on Oct 10, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 173 comments



The problems with long commutes all revolve around home ownership.

People want big houses on big yards. Most can't afford that close to work, which means they make the economic choice to trade the commute time for that "dream".

That's fine but the problem is that government subsidizes that dream to a ridiculous degree. Urban sprawl has a huge cost in infrastructure, largely borne by the taxpayer.

Low-density urban sprawl largely also makes public transport uneconomic (public transport works best in high density cities and countries).

Lastly, home ownership decreases the flexibility of the labour market. People are less able and less inclined to pick up and move to find work opting instead for lower-paid employment or no employment at all.


They also revolve around people who fail to understand trade-offs and opportunity costs. This never became clearer to me than after I read "The Soul of a Commuter" in the New Yorker: http://www.newyorker.com/reporting/2007/04/16/070416fa_fact_... . I actually just submitted it to HN as a regular article; it seems germane to this discussion, and as far as I can tell no one else has offered a point.

Most interesting to me: the long discussion of the research showing the negative effects of commuting.


There are a couple of places in the US where there is enough population density to make mass transit work. Unfortunately no one wants to spend the money to improve it. Train and bus travel is painfully slow. Commuter rail travel, for example, averages about 30-40 mph, at best. If that doubled, people could commute from "great distances", or simply live 40 miles from a major city and have a 30 minute commute. Is the problem really that hard to solve?


We need to both change the way we think about what "mass transit" is and spend more $$$ advertising it.

I live in a rural area about 40 miles from Minneapolis, the largest city around here, pop. about 400k. Normally it would take me well over an hour to get there during rush hour, but I recently discovered that there is a bus that can do it in 22 minutes if the schedule is to be believed. The buses can drive on the shoulder, and of course, use the HOV lanes to get there faster than we can.

I found this out purely by accident because it's really not well publicized. I had to go to Mpls and didn't want to deal with parking, so I looked into the bus route and was astounded that it could do the trip from bus depot to downtown in 20 minutes. The bus stop itself is about 15 minutes from my house, so I could be downtown in less than 40 minutes. I can't believe Metro Transit isn't screaming this from the rooftops!

Of course, life being what it is I made it to the bus stop late, missed the last bus in and had to deal with the 1.5 hour drive into the city anyway :-(


"missed the last bus in"

This is the problem with small cities' public transit systems. Temporal flexibility is limited compared to driving one's self to work. Need to stay late? You'll be staying all night, or your spouse must come pick you up.

Other issues (observed as a lifelong Clevelander):

1. The elapsed time savings of using public transit is often quite negative (compared to a city like NYC where it probably is often more time-efficient to take the train).

2. Parking costs are relatively low, so there's no tax on bringing your car with you to work. And, you almost never pay for parking at home.

3. You can't live easily without a car, so the potential savings of public transit is reduced to less usage of your current vehicle. You still have to own one, pay for insurance, etc.

4. Density is so low that your first/last mile issues may literally be that far.

All of this creates a death spiral for these public transit systems: Ridership is low, so vehicle frequency is low. This creates higher costs of public transit for people who have more money than time (how much could you have earned while waiting for the bus?), so these systems end-up serving only those with more time than money. This creates a stigma around using public transit which further reduces ridership. Add in white flight and the fear that extending public transit to the "nice areas" will allow "those people" to invade, and it's hard to imagine how public transit could ever work.


Where in Cleveland do you live?

The RTA is very good for getting downtown or to University Circle (and possible Ohio City). Unfortunately the jobs have all moved to around 271/480. I did the 48->7 reverse commuting from Shaker Sq. to Highland Heights when my car was in the shop last year. Let me tell you, that sucked. Nearly an hour and half vs. 30 min driving. And there's only 1 bus the entire day that took the special route I needed.


I live in Hudson, so public transit will never help me much. I used to live in University Heights, a suburb which grew up after the RTA lines were laid out. Ironically, I have been working in Chicago during the week for the past few months and have been getting by a combination of public transit and taxis. $150/mo parking in the condo complex where I am renting coupled with $20/day-ish downtown parking makes a $8 taxi ride a bargain (not to mention the $2.25 bus fare). It also helps that iGoCars (a non-profit zip car competitor) has stationed a car right outside my building.


I must be misunderstanding something. A bus that covers 40 miles in 22 minutes would be doing 109 MPH the whole way, even on the shoulder.


I live around 40 miles outside the city. The bus station is approx. 20 miles from the city. Since it doesn't have to stop (the HOV lanes around here are usually open) 22 minutes is reasonable.


Wouldn't seeing a bus drive on the shoulder or fly by you in the HOV lane be a kind of advertisement? I never see buses do that where I live.


I rarely drive into the city and never do so at rush hour, so I've never really noticed what the buses do.


I'm sure I'll get downvoted, but this is funny and worth commenting on. Nice.


I commuted 27 miles (straight line) via commuter rail and it took me 1.5 hours each way. Rent was free (I lived at my parents) but it was tough. I was surprised by how long it took, and by the number of service interruptions that made the trip even longer!

I am now happily working 1.2 miles from home.


I live 1.4 miles from home, and walking to and from work is one of the best choices I ever made for my physical and mental well-being. If you don't walk to work and can, I highly recommend trying it.


You should move closer to home.

;-)


Including stop-lights it takes me 20 minutes to walk a mile. I too live about 1.4 miles from work, but I don't have a spare hour each day for walking.


I plan on fixing up my bike over the winter. I walked this morning and it does take a while. It also feels rather dangerous given all the construction going on around here.


It's false that "no one wants to spend the money to improve it", as proven by the voting for recent ballot initiatives to fund high-speed rail and BART expansions in California, to cite just one example.

A LOT of people would MUCH rather have large amounts of public dollars spent to improve transit than to, for instance, fund wars, bail out bankers, etc.


According to Wikipedia, BART is currently 104 miles of rail. That's probably less than half of the NYC subway. While the expansion is great, I think I'm talking about being even more ambitious.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bay_Area_Rapid_Transit_expansio...

The HSR is CA was funded in 2008. It looks like the first leg through Fresno might happen in a year or two. China went from no subway to the biggest subway system in the world in 15 years. They have 5000 miles of HSR. We have zero.

If you really want to get people off the highways, mass transit needs to be made more convenient, not the lesser of two undesirable choices.


And just for another comparison: The MVV (Munich Transport and Tariff Association / Muenchner Verkehrsverbund) serves 2.6 million people (Munich and the greater Munich Area). The S-Bahn (commuter trains) lines are 442 km, the subway lines 103 km and the tramway is 75 km. There is also the bus with 457 km on 66 lines in the city. (I've ignored buses for the outer regions and the option to use trains to reach the city from suburbs).


Compared to a neighbouring city:

Prague: 1,2 million passengers using 60 km of subway, 550 km of tramway and 1815 km of 150 lines buses.

Too many buses, obviously.


rail is a chicken-egg problem.

why would i take the train for longer distances if my destination will not have buses/subway? i will need my car there anyway, so i might just skip the train and drive.


See the construction plans for a high-speed train from staten island to manhattan (nyc). It should make going from SI -> Manhattan take about 20-30 mintues saving an average commuter about 20-40 minutes per ride. Gets a ton of cars off the road, thus making the other commutes faster, less cost, etc. Commuting in NYC is quite problematic.


it does not matter. well, i don't know NYC. let me talk about west coast. SF is fine for buses/subway. But if i live in SF, and need to go to LA, even if bart install the fastest train there is, it's of no use to me, as i can't even get a taxi in a decent manner in LA. i will have to take my car, or rent one there. or at least commute with some friend.


I would be interested in the history of that. Homeownership seems very American to me, but subsidizes not so much [1]. And books or links, that you can recommend?

[1] I'm aware there are many subsidizes in the US, for instance in agriculture. Still, it seems to be less than in Europe. There are subsidizes for homeownership in Germany but more people live in rented accommodation.


The biggest difference between the US and somewhere like Germany is the price of land. While land can be expensive in certain highly desireable places, it is possible to buy habitable land in the US for what is a derisory amount of money to a European - often less than $1,000 per acre. This drives the cost of home ownership down to levels that can be aspired to by many people. There is a lot of homebuilding as a result, which also keeps costs low.

In comparison, buildable land in a European village or small town can be $100,000/acre - not that you can find an acre to buy anyway. Even if you could afford the land, you would then have to find the same amount again to build the house - so it is much cheaper to rent.

Edit:

Sorry, you wanted a reference. This older story:

http://www.economist.com/node/13491933?story_ID=13491933

It captures some of the US pro-home-ownership arguments lower in the article.

Edit #2:

Yeah, there are places in Europe cheaper than Germany, but $700,000/acre does not surprise me. I should have added that construction standards are very different between Europe and the US which also accounts for the low cost of housing. In many (most?) parts of the US houses are made of simple timber frames and hence are simply and quickly erected - I have seen houses (the outer shell obviously) go up in as little as two days. In Europe a lot (most?) of housing is made of brick, a more laborious process.


Your price for buildable land in Europe is way off. The average price for land that is ready to build on in germany is around 129€ ( http://www.destatis.de/jetspeed/portal/cms/Sites/destatis/In... ), resulting in about $700,000/acre. Towns are quite a bit more expensive.


Ho-lee crap!

Around here, $10k/acre is considered expensive.


Think you'd have to look at the term "buildable"... the US doesn't try very hard to prevent urban sprawl with it zoning rules. The EU, in comparison, may restrict zoning and in particular restrict the conversion of agricultural land into housing tracts.


An acre is ridiculously large for building a house on. 1/10th of an acre is what an average Belgian free-standing house is build on these days, in the Netherlands it's even smaller.

I'd jump at any chance to buy an acre of land zoned for residential construction for only 100k, even in the most 'rural' areas here ('rural' being relative, even very rural here is still suburban by US standards).


The single biggest subsidy for homeownership in the US is the mortgage interest tax deduction, where you can deduct interest payments on the first $1,000,000 of debt on your first or second home.


Yes, interest deduction is a big subsidy, but also roads, cars etc are highly subsidized. I'm on my BB so I can't provide good sources, but if you google subsidies of driving americans etc you will find a lot.

In Europe, they charge very high vehicle and gas tax to make up for the roads and keep people from driving. In the US we allow much less wealthy people to drive. Neither is correct, but we in the US highly subsidize commutes.


IIRC The US Highway system is cash positive. It is true that the US gas-tax is much lower than just about anywhere else. The easiest way to lose the next election in the US is to propose raising the gas-tax.


I imagine the homestead exemptions (terminology?) are a close second. Most places you get a property tax break on property you live in. Landlords, and therefor renters get to make up the difference.


Agreed. Another one is Fannie Mae and Freddy Mac, which work together to stabilize the home mortgage market, resulting in lower mortgage interest rates than would otherwise be the case.


I don't want a big house with a big yard. I grew up in Manhattan and I'm perfectly happy in an apartment. Yet in San Francisco, despite sky-high rentals, there's a shortage of rental apartment buildings, apparently because the city restricts their construction and height.

And then they wonder why people move out of town as their families grow - SF has one of the lowest proportions of households with small children of any city in the nation.


It doesn't all revolve around home ownership. There are a number of people who make decisions on where to live based on their lifestyle interests. Reed Hastings happens to live in Santa Cruz and was quoted in a chat about making a conscious choice about living in Santa Cruz County and having that separation "line" dividing work and the personal. Many people who live in Santa Cruz and do the commute feel the same (ignoring the fact that there is little to no tech industry here anymore).

Big houses and big yards? I've got a bungalow that is smaller than any house I lived in growing up (probably by a factor of two).

Urban sprawl may have a huge cost in infrastructure, but the lack of planning to put in commute alternatives (like trains) are just as damning. In Germany, there are friends that live 30-40min outside of Munich and happily take the train daily. They don't necessarily want to live in the city. Which goes to your argument of "Low-density urban sprawl largely also makes public transport uneconomic" -- in general, sure, but again infrastructure planning can offset this.

This country, unfortunately, doesn't believe in planning for infrastructure. Trains? Unprofitable boondoggles! (or so some think)


> It doesn't all revolve around home ownership.

Agreed. I live in a flat in semi-central London and I cycle to work in a little more than half an hour. Life is good, but during weekends it really rubs me that I have at least an hours worth of travelling to do before I can get to some uninterrupted countryside.


All of this assumes that a 30-something professional couple with two earners can actually both find (and keep) jobs within biking distance of a home they can reasonable afford.

My experience, along with my fiancee, having lived and worked in 3 different major US cities in the past 5 years, is that assumption just isn't reasonable. It's hard enough to find two good jobs in a household in the same _CITY_ right now, much less the 10-15 mile radius of biking. In areas where it might be possible, the cost of housing is so high that it eats up that savings.

Examples 1. New York: Lots of jobs in tight proximity and good public transport, but even in the "cheaper" boroughs, you're still probably paying $250K or more extra for a small family residence. 2. Los Angeles: Cheap housing. Owning less than two cars with two careers? Possible, but very, very difficult. Short commutes? Unlikely. 3. San Francisco: Expensive housing. Expensive car ownership. Jobs spread throughout the peninsula.

Not to mention what happens when you have kids to transport.

What we really need is to lift restrictions on new housing construction in dense urban areas like New York and San Francisco. The only way you can have both high job density and moderate housing prices close together is to allow enough vertical construction to reduce competition for housing to reasonable levels. Until you do that, you're inevitable going to see a large part of the population, especially younger / latecomer families, forced to live away from the job centers so they can reduce housing costs.


Chicago. It's cheap and dense. It's difficult to go car-free with children, though. Some do, however: http://onelessminivan.tumblr.com/ is about living car-free with kids in the city.


> The only way you can have both high job density and moderate housing prices close together is to allow enough vertical construction to reduce competition for housing to reasonable levels.

I think this is a pipe dream, unfortunately. How could you sell such an idea to the existing homeowner who comprise the voting base?


Increasing density and preventing further sprawl drives up real estate values in general and greatly benefits the existing homeowner. If you can take a plot allocated to a single-family dwelling, and put ten apartments on it, it's worth more yet rents for less.

In my view, the forces behind not allowing more vertical building are really developers who want more sprawl, because they want to buy up unused land at the fringes of a city and build houses on it rather than have to assemble blocks from existing neighborhoods.

The unfortunate answer in all this is that the best way to reduce commuting is to make it harder to commute. Don't build more roads to subsidize long commutes, make work parking more expensive, and favor public transport in allocation of lanes and space. Europe is already doing this, and some cities in the US (like San Francisco) are also doing it to some degree.

I suspect, however, that we won't really get serious about it here in the US until gas hits about $15 a gallon.


Have developers help you politically, offer gads of cash for their housing. Downtown vancouver quickly became tower land, and housing prices just went up overall.


Simple, don't let people vote on it.


For the politician who wants another term, whether she votes on it or the public does makes little difference when the opposition can claim, "She caused your house prices to go down 20%".


In an earlier life, I lived in the Dallas area. Moving to be near work sounds great, but it would not have been practical.

- I lived there for nine years. My average tenure was 18 months for each employer: Laid-off, right-sized, down-sized. Finding a new house for each new employer would have been costly.

- One employer was way the heck out by the airport. There were no houses within biking distance. Or not ones I could afford.

- Another employer had me relocate to a new client every few months. I saw a fair bit of the metro-mess that way.

- The last employer turned out to be the best: closed the office in Texas and relocated me to Wisconsin. My house is two miles away from the office. I still need a car: biking to work in the winter is just crazy.

'The plural of data is not anecdote' but .. sometimes you gotta just get a place to live and live with a commute that you know is going to change no matter what.


It gets even more complicated if you have a spouse/partner that also works. Lots of 2-professional families will never leave a huge metro, even if one of both of them could find better work in a different (but not the same different) city.


This is a frustration for me currently. My work is taking me closer to Palo Alto and San Francisco, her work is taking her closer to South San Jose. Our most recent change is that she is working on finishing a project in Los Gatos, while I just found some great work in Palo Alto.

We have compromised by living in the middle, but we both need to commute for about 30-40 minutes to our respective work places. I view this as an investment in our future. Right now we are both building careers which will make us much more money in the long run than the cost of commuting.


The thing about commuting by bike/transit in the Bay Area is that it is doable, largely because there is critical mass with regards to enough people doing it that the facilities exist. In many cities, you cannot bring a bike onto a rush hour train. Here? 2 bike cars per train, packed to capacity. This summer, I was commuting from SF to Stanford. 10-minute bike ride on one end, 5-minute bike ride on the other end, 37 minute train ride in the middle. Got plenty of reading/homework done and a bit of exercise.


Have to disagree here. The limited mass transit system that exists in the South Bay is ridiculously slow.


He's talking about Caltrain. If you can do pure Caltrain + cycle it will be faster than driving during rush hour, often significantly so, except on the one day a month that someone is killed, on those days you're fucked but at least you have a good excuse.


Compared to what?


Any vehicle. Even when going from station to station, VTA light rail is often less than a third the speed of driving. Biking is often faster.

Coverage is also really poor, especially in the southern areas (Cupertino, Campbell, etc.)

(Just to clarify: Biking in the Bay Area is really good. Public transit, at least in the South Bay, not so much.)


> My house is two miles away from the office. I still need a car: biking to work in the winter is just crazy.

I grew up in Minneapolis, you should check out the bicycle commuting scene where you live. It varies by location, but in Minneapolis I was able to bicycle commute at least 4 days a week all winter long thanks to good plowing of bike paths, studded tires (only occasionally) and substituting a bus ride in right after significant snowfalls.

Winter bike commuting is not for everyone, but with the proper gear it's not as bad as it looks (less uncomfortable than getting in a cold car and waiting for it to warm up IMHO).


"I was about (sic) to bicycle commute at least 4 days a week all winter long"

I think you also have to factor in safety. You will inevitably take chances over time and one of those chances could lead to an injury that keeps you from working or gives you lifelong pain. Either from a mistake you make or from someone in a car or bus. (Of course this can happen in dry weather as well...)

Statistically you can also use the historical weather info on http://www.wunderground.com to look over several years data for the winter.


The way I factor in safety is by choosing my routes. Minneapolis is wonderful for this. Depending where you live and work you may be able to bypass roads completely.

In any case though, beyond reasonable precautions such as helmets and defensive riding, I'm not going to run statistics to figure out the safest way to live my life. Bicycle commuting in general isn't something I consider an extreme risk. I'd certainly rather take my chances at injury doing a real activity than become an invalid at age 60 because I never got any exercise—because if I have to go to a gym to get exercise "safely" it ain't gonna happen.


Don't have any stats to back this up, but driving is probably just as unsafe.


That feels counter intuitive.

In a car one has restraints, a lot of armor to absorb impact, airbags. On a bike you've got ... a helmet.


Yes, when a collision does happen, a car is undoubtedly a better place to be, for the same reasons a tank would be better still. However, when it comes to avoiding a collision, in a car one has a whole lot more kinetic energy, and a whole lot less visibility and maneuverability.


For me the biggest part was having a place to change. I commuted rain/snow/shine for almost 2 years straight in Chicago, but I was only able to make it happen because I had a gym membership in the building. Some places around here are (supposedly, so I hear) getting better about having more of a locker room style bathroom to allow for people who ride to work and not be a sweaty mess when they get there.


For about four years I did bicycle commuting year-round, rain or shine (no snow here). It was only possible because I had an indoor place to store my bike, a place to hang my clothes to dry, a place to change and wash up a bit, and space at work to store things like dry shoes and indoor jackets. This allowed me to just accept the weather and completely change between biking at work.

Now, I don't have that luxury. I don't have a good place to store things, I don't have a good changing/cleaning area. I'm dreading the rain.


What did you do to protect your bike against the water and salt in the winter?


I've never done anything in particular to my bike in Denmark, except to keep it indoors at night. Haven't had any problems.


I bike to work through the winter in Chicago. I don't do anything special except have indoor storage and lube the chain each week.

I just plan for the bike to be ruined and ride a crappy bike that I replace every so often.


Yep, just keep vigilant on the routine maintenance and at least store it indoors so it's only outside while you're riding it.

The scrappy-looking dependable workhorse also has a side benefit of you not having to worry as much about it being stolen vs. something that still shines.


Two miles is very walkable (given clear sidewalks in the winter)


Agreed. I've done it.

In my case it's not always practical - I like to come home for lunch, see the kids, have lunch with my wife.


Well, practicality is pretty much ruled out here unless you work from home.


True, but you will very selldom have clear sidewalks and even if they have been cleared you still risk falling on some piece of ice.


Live in a metro area where there are laws that sidewalks have to be clear. I live in Boston and have been walking to work for the last 15 years including during the winter. The only exception is that I take the metro (or 'T' as it's called here) when it rains. It's very rare to have an impassible sidewalk, and when you do you just walk around it in the street for a few meters.

There are plenty of tech companies here within walking distance, lots of job options and an OK startup scene.

Also, don't have a car. I use Zipcar or taxis when necessary (maybe 10 times a year). Not having to pay for a car, insurance and parking saves a lot of money. That savings makes living in more expensive city apartments more easy to afford.

Not having to drive to work is my number one job perk, and living in a city is much more enjoyable (to me at least) than not.


Get a pair of Kahtoola microspikes and you won't have to worry much about falling on ice or snow. I run all winter in Montana with these. They handle streets or mountain trails without a problem.

http://www.kahtoola.com/microspikes.php


Thanks so much for this! I have almost wiped out innumerable times here in the winter. Ordering two pairs of these today.


Most civilized towns in the snow belt have a law saying the walks must be cleared X hours after the snow stops falling.


Mr. Moustache's analysis of the cost of an automotive commute remains valid, even if the automotive commute is necessary.


Many employers are able to get away with their location decisions because as the original article states, most people do not prioritize commute mode & duration when they make major life decisions such as where to work and where to live. People have slowly grown accustomed to spending an hour a day in the car, mandatory, so the bar is very low here.

Further, government subsidization of sprawl and predatory suburban towns tend to push buyers towards new construction in exurban areas along interstates. Employers that do attempt to locate close to employees end up chasing the single-family households out to the outskirts, right into a dead end where then everyone must drive. Employers should locate in sustainable, dense, transit-friendly neighborhoods, ultimately giving their employees a choice.


Employers should locate in sustainable, dense, transit-friendly neighborhoods

They should, I guess.

* Rent is going to be steep in a place like that. I worked for a concern that took space in a very nice office building. Wood paneling! We had a walled lawn with trees outside. Offices, not cubes. Rent was far more than the generic building across the street.

It was great until we had to cut costs when the economy tanked. I prefer the cheap space, beige cubes and a job as opposed to laying folks off.

* Not all employers can do that. Your average dense transit-friendly neighborhood is not going to take kindly to an electronics concern opening up 100,000 sq/ft of manufacturing space, for example.


Rent is only steep because the supply far outstrips the demand for these neighborhoods. The government heavily subsidizes the incentives that make low density so economically attractive, skewing the construction and real estate industries towards those ends, even with the high demand. It's much cheaper to deliver services such as utilities and police/fire protection to high density areas, but low density areas pay the same rates and taxes. It gets even worse when predatory, independent suburban cities cherry-pick (thru zoning regulations) affluent households, offering them lower taxes and supposedly better services, which in turn further hollows out the urban areas, exacerbating existing problems.

Industry took place at the center of the city alongside professional jobs. It's only relatively recently that it's been economical to locate distribution & light industrial jobs in dedicated, industrial zoned areas, now that workers have been conditioned to agree to subsidize the costs of cheap land. Further, local governments agree to extend infrastructure to these places almost exclusively for the benefit of these corporations.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tragedy_of_the_commons


Industry took place at the center of the city alongside professional jobs. It's only relatively recently that it's been economical to locate distribution & light industrial jobs in dedicated, industrial zoned areas,

We put industry in dedicated areas because living next to a factory that runs 24/7 is unpleasant.


It's amazing how many excuses people manage to come up with for how it's impossible for them to follow this kind of advice. Turns out, it's impossible up until the point that you just shut up and start doing it.

Sweating is only a problem for most of you because you're unhealthy and overweight. You're overweight because you get no exercise. It's okay: I was too. Then I started cycling to work and lost 50lb. Now sweating's not a problem, and I can go significantly faster without showing up to work drenched.

On my old commute (7.5mi), I ended up getting it down to 20 minutes once I got in shape. Time to drive? 20 minutes. Except instead of arriving to work tired and pissed off, I would show up alert, awake, and having enjoyed some time out in the sun doing something fun. It completely changed my mindset at work, and got me off to a much better foot every morning.

Showering isn't a problem. Again, go slower until sweating is no longer an issue, then increase your speed to a point that you can still get to work without being drenched. If you still show up wet, or if you're wet from rain, bring a change of clothes. I infrequently had to, but it's not that hard to ride in wearing cycling clothing (which will, incidentally, keep you much drier) and bring a change of clothes with you. Go into the bathroom, change, and be on with your day. It takes less time than it would to find a parking spot for your SUV anyway.

Weather is, again, not a big deal. We as humans have invented clothing for all sorts of weather conditions, intersected with the requirements of all sorts of physical activities. Cycling is no exception. There's cycling clothing for rain, for cold, and for rain _and_ cold. It costs equivalent to about a week's worth of driving for you 30-minute commuters. Less if your commute is longer.

I mean, come on. Hacker News is a site supposedly full of entrepreneurial go-getters. And yet this guy gives you a way to save hundreds of thousands of dollars, your time, and your sanity, and all I hear is griping about how minor inconveniences make it completely impossible. Yeah, some of you are trapped between a rock and a hard place. Some of you are already owning impossible-to-sell property forty miles out in the 'burbs. But for the rest of you, quit making excuses and just give it a try — it's seriously not as hard or inconvenient as you're making it out to be.

Who knows? Maybe the next time your apartment is up for renewal you'll find yourself moving closer to the city rather than farther away for once. And you won't ever look back.


Sweating is only a problem for most of you because you're unhealthy and overweight

I don't know about that; body chemistries are very different. But more importantly, it sounds like you live in a place with reasonably cool, dry air. Some of us don't have that privilege.

It's good advice, don't get me wrong. I myself lead a largely carless life in -- of all places, rather improbably -- downtown Atlanta, and walk about a mile and a half to work each way, and pretty much walk everywhere else too.

But to think I could bike around here without getting sweaty is a practical impossibility, no matter what condition of fitness or body weight. It's extremely humid, though not quite as bad as the gulf coast. It's just not going to happen. So, I'd suggest for anyone in that set of circumstances to be pragmatic and bring a change of clothes and try to find a place where you can shower at work.


Actually, I live in Atlanta. It's really not as bad as you think — cycling generates wind, which keeps you cool. You don't have to expend more energy on a bike than you would otherwise on your walk. So if you can manage to walk without sweating, you can likely bike it without issue.

I agree with the body chemistry bit, though. Some people just can't do it, one way or another. But for the majority of people, it's just an excuse. And it's a convenient one because they frequently are already unhealthy or overweight.


So if you can manage to walk without sweating

That can be a quite challenge most months out of the year, and I'm in fairly good shape. But I walk quite faster than most people (can't really help it). Even in the winter, I just feel cold from the chilly wind while simultaneously sweating inside my coat. It's the quintessential "clammy" experience. This area of the country absolutely sucks, climactically, although not quite as badly as Houston, where I lived for a while.


Sweat is not the only problem with Atlanta summers. It's the smog that keeps me indoors.


Sweating is only a problem for most of you because you're unhealthy and overweight.

Maybe for you... but I've always been quite fit, never overweight at all, but biking to work on a warm sunny day is a guaranteed way to arrive looking like I just stepped out of a shower with my clothes on. Heck, I can stand still in humid 90 degree heat in the sun, and be drenched after twenty minutes. Plus, most of us don't have shower facilities at work to clean off all the sweat -- do you expect me to lock myself in the work bathroom for 20 minutes while I take a sponge bath from the sink?

And how do you bring a change of clothes if you wear a dress shirt at the office? It doesn't matter how nicely you fold it; it will be horribly wrinkled and creased after sitting in a backpack. Bottom line: it's simply not professional, in a lot of cases. It isn't making excuses, and it really is as inconvenient as people say it is. And I say this as someone who does bike to work, on the few days out of the year that the weather makes it possible to (without sweating, freezing, or being rained on).


Perhaps try leaving a few sets of smarts in the office drawer, for the occasional day when it isn't so hot & humid and do the cycle just a couple of times a week. You will notice a difference :)


Exactly: remember Don Draper in Mad Men? Pile of crisp shirts in the desk drawer for those occasions when he'd stayed out all night & had to look presentable the next day.

(Not saying you should emulate DD otherwise mind!)


I tried the cycling to work, and found I could make it work for me on a 6 mile or so, 30 minute cycle, twice a week. My bike was slow, and I wasn't particularly fit.

Incidentally, I did try the going slower thing, but I don't know if it's Manchester's humidity but it didn't really make much difference! (This could have been that my mountain bike's gear were irrepairably stuck in top gear - least this city is flat!)

In theory, I'd also found a way around the sweat problem. A new gym opened around the corner from work, and had a special offer of £10 a month. I sold it to myself, that it was worth just to have a shower when I got to work - and I'd not have one before I left in the morning. As a bonus, it was a gym, and they're kinda full of fitness gear, so I managed to overcome my pretty entrenched fear of these gym place and booked a trainer to give me a personal training plan. I'd say it's beat my fear of gym's and 'that' kind! Anyways I'm sure this story may one day go on to to say I lost 50lb - I'd be happy with 1 stone tbh, but that job ended and now I'll be working much closer to home.... a 10 minute cycle / bus journey. So, a bit less exercise, but less faff.

Still hoping that one day I can buy a house, with a similar commute from work. Though my generation (mid-30s) is still priced out of the housing here unless you're in a couple, both on decent incomes. That's definitely changing though!!


The bicycle makes a difference. A mountain bike, especially stuck in top gear, takes a lot more effort than a road bike, or even a hybrid.


I live within 1.3 miles of my apartment, but I think there are a lot of good points being made. It's bad to make tradeoffs you don't understand, but they really are just tradeoffs. You really can't always prioritize a short commute. It took me 10 years to reach the situation I have now, and I've known I hated commuting since before I went to college.

At one point, I made a conscious trade-off to live in the city, even though I was working in the burbs, because it was closer to my friends and things to do (and I am a single man). I had a 30-35 minute per day commute through annoying Boston traffic but it was totally worth it.

As for the sweat issue, I have been cycle-commuting for well over a year and often it doesn't matter how slow I go, I will still sweat during most of the seasons around here. Genetically, I'm a moderate sweater. In the colder months, it's really hard to balance against biting cold and sweating. In the hot, humid months it just doesn't matter. After 5 minutes I'll be sweating, backpack or no. Luckily, I don't really care and am fine sitting at my desk in an undershirt while I cool off. I keep a change of clothes in my desk for meetings. Not everyone has that luxury, though.

I went through a phase of 9-mile cycle-commuting and there's absolutely no way I would have been able to show up without stopping by the gym to take a shower first. There is no pace slow enough that I would not sweat through at least one layer of clothes. Believe me, I tried.

Incidentally, being in shape or not has nothing to do with it. I've been active my whole life and have always sweat-- and know people who sweat much worse than me.


Interesting. Everything I've heard, and my own experience, indicates the fitter you are, the more readily you sweat. One example, from the guy who coaches Lance Armstrong: http://www.trainrightblog.com/2011/03/28/chris-carmichael-bl...


To a degree. Initially as you lose weight, riding at X mph will require less power (moving a lighter object!), so you will sweat less.

But once you reach a reasonable weight and are just gaining muscle and cardio power, added fitness level just allows you to emit more power for longer. But sweat levels are pretty much just related to power (how much heat you generate) - and of course cooling.

At Grandparent's speed (22.5 mph) on flat ground, he's going to produce massive power to overcome air resistance. The effective fan will help cool him down/dissipate sweat, but especially in body areas that don't get such a good air blast, he will end up soaked.


Sweating: speak for yourself.

I'm in very good shape.

I'll sweat, particularly in humid weather, even if it's nominally cool out.

San Francisco, not commonly considered sultry, runs ~85% RH in the morning, year round.

Even a transit commute (warm busses/subways, and some hill walking) can leave someone pretty schvitzy. Taking 5-10 minutes to cool down, outside, can help.

That said: I agree that commute costs and time are best avoided.


i'm pretty sure that if you do not sweat after a 20min ride that covers 7.5mi, you should seek a doctor. Urgently.

...or you are luck to live on the top a hill and work in a dried lake bed.


Apologies. I unintentionally mixed some numbers. My typical ride was 30 minutes, on a route with few traffic lights. That's an average of 15mph, which is pretty tame.

20 minutes was my _record_, with me hauling ass as fast as I could possibly go. And for the record, I was drenched. But I brought a change of clothes and had a quick shower that day. :)


Ya, that's 22.5 mph. That's on the pretty high end already on flat ground. When you factor in traffic lights, he has to go even faster. At such a power level (2x that of riding a moderate 16 mph), I can't see how he wouldn't be breathing hard and sweating a lot.


His numbers are absolute nonsense - $125k over 10 years is only possible if you were spending your wage commuting - it's far more than just the $19/day travel costs he cites.

If you go from a 60 minute commute to a 0 minute commute, you don't suddenly get 2 hours of extra pay per day.

It's like saying "You don't get paid for that hour of chores you do every day - which means if you stop doing chores, you'll get more money!"


I'm glad you said that, I was having problems with that bit of the arithmetic myself. My time is precious to me, but only earns me money when someone wants to pay me for it.


I'm a hater of long commutes (happily with a 1.5 mile one right now), but some of the analysis is flawed:

1) Commuting cost. The $0.17 as a minimum marginal cost per mile is reasonable. The IRS' $0.51 really can't be used as a margnal rate. Simply put, the operating cost of a car is not a linear function of mileage. There are exceptionally high fixed costs, namely depreciation, insurance, (some) maintenance and registration. Personally, as I only drive 7000 miles a year (well below car average), my car ownership costs per mile slightly exceed the IRS reimbursement rate. But my marginal rate is still extremely low - if I drove another 1000 miles a year, it'd cost maybe $200 more ($0.2/mile). Attempting to average a minimum marginal cost and an optimistic estimate of car ownership per mile does not produce a valid estimate for average marginal cost.

2) Mileage to time conversion: I have no idea how he concludes that 1 mile = 6 minutes round trip. Living father away generally implies freeway utlization, where a marginal mile would be closer to 2 minutes round trip. (Anecdote: I live in SF. Thanks to the lack of freeway system within the city itself, a commute may be shorter (and use not much more gas) living 20 miles away from work in the suburbs than 7 miles away within the city borders).

3) Value of time. On a long commute, I'm not necessarily wasting time. Whenever I had one, I deferred actual reading I would otherwise do to podcasts.

I've always found the main benefit of a short commute is flexibility (go home and back in the middle of the day) and reduction of stress (traffic sucks). It is awesome to have a shorter commute, but in no way is it worth spending nearly $250k more on a house solely to live 15 miles closer to work for a typical person.


Yes, the 6 minutes per mile thing seemed weird to me. I live and work in SF now, but I used to work in Santa Clara, and I would do the drive in about 40 minutes -- just about 1 minute per mile. I drove at non-peak times, and my off-highway time was usually no more than about 10 minutes.

Then I started working in San Mateo... half the distance, but usually 25-30 minutes. Off-highway time increased, and on-highway decreased. Still, though, a far cry from 6 min/mile.

But I'm so much happier now that my commute involves only 6 blocks of walking and a 20 minute bus ride. I can even read on the bus! It's great, though the lack of control over my transportation still bothers me.


What bus goes from SF to San Mateo in 20 minutes?


I couldn't finish reading the whole thing, and I'm usually thinking about maximizing everything all the time.

He completely lost me when he said people could change jobs to reduce the commute. Isn't there usually a reason that people are working where they are? Things such as chosen field and salary? We're not talking about teenagers working fungible minimum wage jobs here...

Everyone tries to minimize their commute times and where they end up living is a reflection of the compromise between different values. I think this article points out that people don't prioritize commute time enough because its only taken in small daily doses and that's a valid point, but that time is also not completely wasted if you can find something productive to do (e.g. listening to audiobooks, language lessions or relevant news).


> He completely lost me when he said people could change jobs to reduce the commute. Isn't there usually a reason that people are working where they are?

Sure, but that reason would probably evaporate for a large enough raise. Which not having to commute is, if you look at it rationally.


The author of the article completely ignores public transit. Commuting by train has at least two advantages: (1) it (can be) cheaper than driving, although the exact economics depend on a lot of things, and (2) you can do something else, such as work, during the commute time, so it need not be wasted time.

Also, commuting an hour to a job sure beats not having a job in the same state as your significant other (my situation). I'm looking forward to moving to the same place and commuting soon. Commuting sucks, but you're optimizing for many things when choosing where to live, not just commute time.


As a related point, podcasts (tech podcasts specifically) have made my driving commutes more bearable. Sure, I can't do actual work while driving, but I no longer feel like I'm wasting my time. The result is less stress. Now when my trips are quick sometimes I'm annoyed I didn't get to hear more of the show!


I work from home, but I still "commute" to get a fresh breakfast every morning - by scooter. It is such a joy to ride a scooter in London traffic that I deliberately go to much farther shops just to extend the amount of time I'm zooming past the traffic...

Quite frugal on fuel (I get about 70 MPG, but I ride a fast 300cc scooter and don't have a light throttle hand), and I can do most regular maintenance (oil & filter mostly) myself.


Aren't you worried about the higher likelihood of death (4x) and injury (6x) on motorcycles?


Not really, no; for several reasons. You need to pick apart those statistics and look at risk factors (e.g. breaking limits, laws, alcohol) and also weigh up how much fun it is. Skydiving is dangerous but fun - I did it for a year, but ultimately it wasn't for me. Climbing mountains is dangerous, but there's a huge sense of accomplishment involved. Riding a motorbike is similar: there's less risk than the previous, but you can do it much more often, and the risk is scalable by how aggressively you ride.

I've had a few ~30mph scooter spills in the past three years - a couple of lowsides from loss of traction owing to cornering too harshly in poor weather and poor surfaces (scooters exacerbate this owing to not having much lean angle to play with), as well as an 18 year old kid in a car who pulled out of a parked position behind a bus and did a u-turn as I was overtaking the bus - but none the worse for wear other than a scratched visor and a slightly scraped elbow (and an insurance payout to replace my bike).

Ironically, I've travelled much further in total on my big bike (but over shorter time periods) with no incidents at all, yet was pushing myself through twisty mountain roads and much higher speeds. But I had the experience to watch extra carefully for road surface quality and dial right back in bad weather.

You've got to die sometime. You only have a short time on this planet. Do you want to live fearfully and protect all that you have until your grave (when you'll lose it all anyway), or do you want to go out and live a little?

At least on a motorbike you're more likely to hurt yourself than other people. I find driving a car, on the other hand, quite a scary experience owing to how large it is and how little vision you have of everything around you. It would be so easy to hit something small while reversing (a child, say), or clip something (like a cyclist) going around a corner.

(I should add that I rarely ever go on my scooter without protective jacket, and almost never on my big bike without protective trousers and boots too. I never ride without gloves or full-face helmet.)


You can say the same about reducing car driving fatality and injury statistics by not doing stupid things like driving drunk too. The relative risk profiles would be the same.

What increases the risk profile with motorcycles is other cars hitting you directly while moving. Inattentive elderly people, young people, people in a hurry, whatever, it's something you don't have control over or an obvious indicator such as bad weather.

I too rode a scooter w/ armor for a year during my student days in a Seattle climate. It is somewhat fun, but there are more fun physical activities out there with less of a risk profile and non-regular occurrence. There were many times I wish I could be driving a car instead.

To me, it doesn't pass the 'Would I regret doing this if a somewhat uncommon screwup happened' test? Especially if I had to do it repeatedly. It's like having casual sex without a condom. It feels better, but your going to regret it majorly if you got a girl pregnant who doesn't want an abortion. Your going to fucking want to kick your past self and tell him to wear a condom. I would feel the same if I got into a major motorcycle accident.


I never said I thought motorbikes were safer than cars; in fact, I explicitly said that they were dangerous, but not as dangerous as e.g. skydiving (IMO - I've seen multiple people break ankles in perhaps 20 days total on dropzones, and three reserve parachute deployments).

The risks apply differently to motorbikes than cars because of how much less there is between you, the vehicle, and the environment. Alcohol affects you worse on a bike; misjudgement affects you worse, because most bikes brake worse than cars yet accelerate far faster. The temptation to twist the throttle and feel the acceleration, and the extra relative width of the road compared to the narrowness of a bike, all make you more likely on average to speed on a bike. Because of the acceleration, agility and small size, you can get away with maneuvers you could never do in a car - if you risk it.

In terms of fun - this is obviously a subjective judgement. You asked if I was put off by the risk profile; I explained why I am not, and clearly part of it is because I find it more fun than you do. It's particularly fun in London, because in the UK it is legal to filter / lane split: you generally skip to the front at red lights, overtake or go down the middle of traffic queues, and generally never have to stop for long because of traffic, even in the narrow streets of central London. The UK equivalent of US double-yellow lines are rare in urban areas; riding on the "wrong" side of the road to skip traffic is common. If I was condemned to ride in the multi-lane highways of the US, and forbidden from lane splitting, and didn't have to deal with London-style traffic, I'd probably drive a car too most days.

(When I ride bikes in California, where I can lane split, it's still not as fun as the UK, because there isn't enough traffic; the highways are too wide, too straight, have too many lanes, while the back roads have poor surfaces and low speed limits. Better than most of the UK again is the Eifel region in Germany / Belgium / Luxembourg, but it's a different kind of fun.)

As to regret, I believe you end up regretting the things you didn't do more than the things you did. I regret not learning how to ride sooner; I wish I'd done it years ago, when I still lived in Ireland. I rode a scooter in the UK on a provisional license for over a year before I got my full license and was able to ride something bigger than 125cc, and regret not passing sooner, having found out how easy it was to pass - it would have lead to lower insurance rates if nothing else. Growing up, I cycled everywhere, and I was always ambivalent about cars. I never had a desire to drive, and didn't learn until I was 29, and it still doesn't appeal to me. I drive reluctantly in rentals, mostly. But motorbikes were different; with every step, I've become more and more convinced that this is the motorized transport for me. It's become part of my identity; it's one of the best things I've ever done, and I regret much of the time I could have spent riding, but didn't.


>You've got to die sometime. You only have a short time on this planet. Do you want to live fearfully and protect all that you have until your grave (when you'll lose it all anyway), or do you want to go out and live a little?

This is pretty much my argument whenever someone takes objection to me flying small airplanes.


Very good point about the statistics. If you really try to drive a motorcycle safely, (e.g., not drunk, not too fast), the statistics practically describe a different cohort.

Motorcycling is easily one of the best things i've done, it puts a smile on my face every time i go out. Cheers!


In Western Europe at least people tend to use protective gear on scooters. So inside the city you're likely to be riding at close-to-bicycle speeds, but with a motorcycle helmet and an armored jacket. Even if you do fall (and you are indeed likely to fall with a scooter) you're probably safer then on a bicycle.

Plus there's a bit of a story with those statistics. Death is way over the charts if you ride either under the influence, or without a helmet. Take away this, and also take away the larger number of accidents which happen in the first year of riding, and you're no longer at 4x.


Funny. I drive from Ft Collins, to the same Broomfield he's talking about (yay Colorado).

I love my 50 minute commute. I use it to listen to podcasts and music. It gives me time to unwind and think. And most importantly, it came along with a raise that more than makes up for the monetary costs of driving.

I'd love a mass transit or car pooling solution, but I haven't run across a viable one yet.

Anyway, I really like my commute. Although, we'll see how it goes in the winter as roads get gross sometimes.


I agree that technology has eased the psychological pain (if not the financial impact) - between podcasting, audio books, streaming music, voice journalling and calling friends, my drive is something I look forward to.


He's calculating the cost of commuting vs not commuting. That's not a real comparison for most people.

And even if you do calculate the real cost differential, I think for many people, living somewhere you really like is similar to taking a job that you really enjoy. I would take decreases in salary for an awesome work environment. Call me crazy, but if I have the ability to "pay" for sanity, I will. It's priceless.


I did a quick search through the comments, but didn't see anyone mention crime and schools. Believe it or not, there are start-ups in the Southern states and they tend to be in the cities (New Orleans, Baton Rouge LA, Jackson MS) where crime is pretty bad. If you have children, the public schools are pretty bad, so you'll want to send them to private school which will run you 6-10K per child.

The only alternative is the suburbs. It's tricky, but I found a place about 20 minutes and 20 miles away, but we looked for over a year. The schools are relatively good and the private schools tend to be a bit cheaper.

People don't want big houses (please show me the evidence that they want big houses), but big houses tend to cost more, which means the neighbors you'll likely have are people who are educated, well-behaved, friendly and have a good credit score. "Big houses" is a polite way of saying I don't want to live by people who can't afford a big house.

...I should also mention. Yeah, bus rides - you don't want to do that.


The lack of good urban schools and healthy mass transit is a self-perpetuating problem in southern cities, originally stemming from racism. Over decades, a near separate but equal environment within the framework of existing civil rights laws came to fruition.


There are plenty of bad schools in the US, and always have been. As rbranson remarks, in some places this has to do with racism. In others, it has to do with generally low expectations.

But yes, schools are a big deal, and often a deal-breaker on living close to work.


"Error establishing a database connection"

So very true. When I lived 60 minutes from work and this would happen, it was a freaking nightmare. If I was lucky, someone else would be on call, but if I wasn't, it meant a 2 hour round trip to fix what usually ended up being an unplugged cable of some sort. Sometimes it just needed a power cycle. -sigh-

... That wasn't the article? I wonder if the article is as insightful?


Ah, here we go.

"And it also doesn’t count as using up your personal time because it is adding something that nobody except Olympic athletes is doing enough of anyway – exercise. You can take your 10 minute bike ride directly out of time you would have otherwise spent in the gym, or waiting in the doctor’s office for prescription medication."

I was wondering how he managed to eliminate that from his calculations. He didn't, of course. Some of us don't do either of the alternatives, so this really would be stealing the time from their day.

And 10 minutes? 5 minutes each way? I'm pretty sure that's all but impossible in most major cities.

And some of those car costs don't disappear when the commute does. You still have to -have- one to go shopping, on trips, and other errands around town.

And so you get to work after your 20 minute bike ride, and what do you do? Why, you go shower, of course! You were just biking for 20 minutes! Nobody wants to smell you. That takes more time from your down... Don't forget the shower when you get home, too! ... Your company doesn't have a shower? Good luck with that!

And danger! When you've got a ton of steel wrapped around you, you don't think much of the danger of the open road. But when the only thing keeping your brain away from the pavement is a little foam hat, the world is quite a bit scarier... Even if the drivers are playing nice!

Oh, lunch time. My favorite time, I'll just go get... Oh wait. I biked in today. I can't go very far... Guess I'm eating that bag lunch after all.

I choose my apartments for their proximity to work. And I love having a short commute... But even when I -could- bike, I rarely did. There were just too many problems with it.


There are a lot of problems with driving too: parking, traffic jams, cost, etc, but you are conditioned to take those for granted.

As a full-time bicycle commuter I have to say that your complaints are more minor inconveniences than serious problems. Do I have to shower after biking 9 miles to work? No, a change of clothes is sufficient. Am I limited to where I can go to lunch? Not compared to my colleagues who mostly walk to lunch, I can easily cover a mile radius of restaurants, and I can do it faster than anyone who opts to drive because of traffic and parking.

Granted if you have to ride open highway or wear a suit to your job, then the downsides become much stronger, but I naturally factor those into my living choices. I would never live in a distant suburb or work an an extremely isolated office park.

The point of all this is simply that I don't view bicycle commuting as some big sacrifice that I make for abstract reasons. I save money and I am more productive at work.


Then it works for you. Congrats! I really enjoyed it whenever it worked for me.

But most of the time it did not.

And no, I'm not too conditioned to take the driving problems for granted. I really, really, really hate them. I go to great lengths to avoid them. But my solution to them wasn't a bike: It was living somewhere that didn't have them.

There's no traffic to or from work. There no problem parking, as everywhere near my work and home has free, open parking lots. There isn't much cost, because I don't drive far. (Remember that I need the car for shopping and errands anyhow, so that cost is sunk. It's also well-kept, low-mileage and cheap.)

So in trying to refute me, you haven't proven me wrong. I was refuting the article, and proving that every situation is different. You came along and proved the exact same thing.


I wasn't trying to "prove" you wrong, I was just irritated with the picture you painted of bike commuting being a major pain in the ass.


My reaction to the article was much the same. The article makes an argument I've made myself several times.

But the author's examples and 'calculations' are just this side of garbage.


> But the author's examples and 'calculations' are just this side of garbage.

You spend one third to one fourth of your life sleeping. Just idling away time. Wait - a 10 minute shower everyday as well? And 10 minutes for breakfast? And a 30 minute lunch? You're wasting a lot of time. Better get your productivity a notch up.


Excellent point! I believe Mr. Money Mustache addresses objections of exactly this type in this related post: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2011/10/07/how-to-tell-if-you...

;-)


Wow. After reading this I would downvote this article if I had downvotes.


Why? Because you find it irritating that he finds it irritating that some people spend more time cutting others down than trying to improve themselves?


The majority of comments on this post are of the form "his analysis is wrong, because it doesn't take into account factors x, y, and z". That's great --- we're having a civil discussion about the merits of his argument.

Linking to his blog post in this way is tantamount to implying that the commenters on this thread are "complainypants", which I find quite rude. If that wasn't his intention, then he certainly could have done a much better job communicating it.

(This is my last post on this topic.)


The post he was responding too wasn't any kind of civil or even logical discussion. It just said his examples and analysis were borderline garbage with no justification.


Which is a fair point. I actually had originally drafted a much longer reply which included additional problems with the figures and comparisons [1].

But after about 10 minutes I realized that the author wasn't making a financial argument from the numbers, he was making an emotional argument with hand-waved numbers for garnish. And that, despite my interest in the issue and agreement with his conclusion, it simply wasn't worth that kind of time.

[1] e.g. $200/20,000 miles for car costs beyond oil/gas/tires is laughably low; ignoring parking/toll costs in the no-commute/used-car case; considering lost time in the commuting case but not lost-personal time in the no-commute case; assuming financing in the commuting case and savings for a used car in the no-commute case; ... generally just considering worst-case for the commuting case and best-case for the no-commute case in almost all things


After one refresh, the article came up for me.

But, yeah, there is a certain irony if this was caused by a remote connection issue.


I did actually try a couple times. :)


I've often thought of the political cost -- frustrated drivers stuck in traffic listening to Rush Limbaugh.


I lived 7 miles from work in Menlo Park. I worked by the 280, and lived by the 101. It took me 20-30 minutes to get to work through 14 stoplights, depending on traffic. I didn't even like where I lived, but it was the closest, cheapest place I could find when I moved here.

I moved to San Francisco, 32 miles away. I was commuting everyday at 9:30 and 7 and getting to/from work in 30 minutes flat. No stoplights. And I enjoyed living here much more.

Now I have a roommate I commute with that works near me, except she wants to work at rush hour times, so we spend 40 minutes in traffic each way, which drives me nuts, but we switch out driving every other week so it's mostly worth it, and I love where I live now because I can walk places when I get home and drive less.

It's not always black and white.


I live in Chicago. I am moving from the suburbs to downtown next weekend.

The higher cost of rent offsets the savings in travel costs.

It's not inconceivable that many people have their offices in a crowded area like downtown Chicago - so they'd be facing the same issue.

But I'm doing it to save time and energy.

Although, again, suburban areas tend to have cleaner air and bigger houses - much better for health than a studio apartment near a high traffic road.

I'd say if you can telecommute, to live in the suburbs is a no-brainer.

If you have to travel, car-pooling and public transport are better options than driving yourself to work everyday.


Lest we not forget the number one killer of otherwise healthy people in the US -- the automobile accident. Curiously, drops in accident fatality rates[1] correlate with spikes in unemployment[2]. I'll let you draw the conclusion there.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_motor_vehicle_deaths_in... [2] http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0104719.html


I work in Seattle and have a one hour, one way commute. I live 15 miles away. Getting to the bus stop, waiting for the bus, and then walking from the bus stop to work really adds up.


Seattle proper -> MSFT campus?

That commute is the main reason I've never entertained any thought of joining MSFT. The choices are to live in comically stereotypical suburbia, or to suffer that commute daily.

Amazon is hiring...


I live in Kirkland and work at Amazon.


Avoid the lake and move. I was much happier after I left MSFT and reduced my commute to 12 minutes.


I prefer the east side for my two kids. My wife also likes it. If it was just me, I'd have no problem living in Seattle.


I can't understand why everyone commutes at the same time of day. It would be of HUGE economic benefit if office activities were evenly distributed around the clock (and the calendar). There would never be rush-hour traffic because people came and went at all hours. Your favorite public place or activity wouldn't be crowded Saturday afternoon, because it wouldn't be Saturday for 6/7 of the population.

Yes, there would be some large costs too, but the benefits are staggering.


It's kind of funny this guy is couching his arguments in how much they could be saving on some house they should buy. It can be argued a house is a bad investment, too. And driving around in a used Kia means a lot less pleasure and comfort derived from doing your weekly trips to the store and what not. There's a degree of enjoyment you can get out of life that you can't necessarily quantify in terms of how it affects your mortgage.


I just calculated the cost of me owning my car. I don't commute to work via car, I pay a bit under 300/mo pre-tax for an express bus to/from work at about 25-45 minute ride.

My wife has been doing bike commuting to work whenever possible.

Hard to get my daughter to her pre-school without car.

Ok so here goes, in 2 years when my lease is up:

I will save $5500 on my car payments + insurance (NYC). I will then save probably another 3-4k or so on gas costs... So that's about 8-9k give or take.

From 8-9k, subtract about 2k in car needs. We will have additional expenses that are met with a car like taking kid to doctor that is not easily reachable. So a cab here or there (eh its not expensive) and renting zipcar here and there.

We already shop fresh direct so it wont change our shopping too much.

So thats about 6-7k that I save per year. That means I can pay about 500-580 more for an apartment. Or just buy an ipad every month, or just save that money for future needs. Maybe spend an extra 1-2k on transportation needs a year. Basically cars are expensive. Incredible that people would work for minimum wage and still commute like this, its unthinkable.


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A friend (and coworker) of mine is working on an app that allows you to calculate your true drive costs... consequently being http://drivecosts.com/

If you're at all interested in this and would like to have a better idea what your commute is costing you (other than time) check it out :)


I wonder how this story would apply to the situation in many European countries; in the Netherlands, companies typically pay commuting costs. Of course this money has to come from somewhere, so effectively everyone's salary is lower, but my salary won't increase when I stop commuting.

This only leaves the cost of time, but IMHO that argument doesn't hold; most people consider their off time to be worth less, when expressed in dollars, than their on time. It's the same reason why many people with good incomes choose to paint their own house rather than work more and hire a painter.

Finally, I think the author forgets about love. If my dream job is 30 miles this way, and my partner's is 20 miles the other way, the total commuting will be the same no matter where we live along that line.


"For each of these miles, you waste about 6 minutes in the round trip..."

This little line here has a huge effect on the computation, because it assumes you are only traveling at 20 mph on your commute. So all this only applies if you are in a heavy traffic area or commuting to a city center.


Some days I wish my average speed was 20mph on my commute. My commute is ~17 miles and it sometimes takes an hour or more.


My commute on bike is 13 and it rarely takes an hour :)


I abhor commutes. Walking to work is the greatest thing in the world. That said, I think he's stretching when he says: "But this misconception about what is a reasonable commute is probably the biggest thing that is keeping most people in the US and Canada poor."

There are a lot of things keeping people poor. Bad education. Inequality of opportunity. Poor parenting. Commuting is only one of many. There article is definitely missing substitution effects. The commute may be reducing your working hours, but it's also reducing your TV hours. (And family hours!)

I shake my head at colleagues with 3-4 hour daily commutes. I think both their careers and their personal lives suffer. That said, the article has gone a litte too extreme.


My commute is roughly 44miles each way (SF to MV)... but before moving to my new place I found public transportation that covers all but the last 5min of my commute. I also made sure I could tether and work remotely before starting this so I could count my 40min of train time as part of work; but I know people who drive the same route I do every day to avoid dealing with public transportation. I have little if no sympathy for them when convenient and fairly reliable public transportation exists.

I also ran the math on the driving vs. commuting found my car is about $7.26/trip + my personal lost time. Train is roughly $4.53/trip and there's a subsidy I take that brings that to ~$1.20/trip


I love arguments like this, but feel like they're useless in our culture. Specifically, the "value of time lost" argument. Most Americans take the hour or two that they gain and piss it away in front of a television anyway.


First off, I really like this blog. Really well written and entertaining. He has good advice to boot. While I live within 10 miles of my workplace, there's no way I could bike it (a 25 minute ride all in parks). Reason being, I live in Arizona and it's about 105 at 9-10am in the summer. There's no way I'm going to peddle my way to work in that heat let alone ride home in it. I'm sure many people who live in cold climates (no idea what that's like) would object too.


A point I would make is that employees are often at the mercy of the employer for the length of the commute. I knew a man in the Four Corners area of Montgomery County who had a quick commute to White Oak. The EPA relocated his office to the Crystal City area of Arlington County, changing his commute from 10 minutes to 45 minutes on a good day. BRAC just pushed a whole lot of jobs down to Fort Belvoir and quite a few more over to Bethesda Naval Hospital.


Parking is a big part of this not really mentioned, if there was reliable free parking in the city (Melbourne, Australia) then the commute wouldn't be nearly as bad. As it you either need to skirt the law in regards to time limits, be lucky to find that parking at all, pay high daily amounts or get an expensive permanent park.

I don't think I would drive anyway (usually take the train) but on the off chance I want to the stress of finding/paying for a park puts me off.


Free parking increases congestion. Think about it - if it's a pain to park in a place, fewer people will drive to that place. Some will take alternatives (walk, bike, transit), others just won't go. More cars on the road -> more congestion -> longer commute times for everyone.


The lack of parking in Melbourne's city is a good thing. It acts as a cost on the negative externalities of driving into one of Australia's biggest cities.

It encourages you to catch the train, which is better for everyone around you, because you don't have to drive.


Yeah I probably come off as if I was arguing for more, which isn't the case.

Was just saying that it is another factor for those from the outer suburbs wanting to drive have to factor in and probably costs more than petrol or car maintenance. I definitely wouldn't want to drive, but on the off chance I do it is something I notice.

It's interesting Melbourne now as the outer suburban fringes, places like Mernda, are so far away that you be almost crazy to think that buying a house out there and commuting to the inner city daily for work would be a good idea.


I used to be all about driving. Then I did the same math this author did and realized how it doesn't work out. Then I invested in a data plan and a bus pass. It takes twice as long to bus, but now I get my two daily dose of hacker news on it. You would be surprised how fast 1hour 30 minutes commute feels when you are on hackers news the whole way.


He's probably underestimating the costs; cf. the Commuter's Paradox http://ftp.iza.org/dp1278.pdf And then there are the health penalties... http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1490117


This is why we need the ability to fund biking infrastructure around the country ourselves...governments are too risk averse and short-term-focused to build this infrastructure by the time it's needed. CivicSponsor.org allows the people to fund it directly, circumventing the entire government process with more control and transparency.


I have a 26 mile commute each way. As a biking nut this is nice because I can get 100 miles in per week if I want although with child care issues 50 miles is more likely. I usually leave the car over night and bike home and back in the morning. 1:22 door to door on average. Beats driving the mass pike and 128 :)


And I commute via air once a week. According to his math; if I could simultaneously live in five cities at the same time, I'd be a millionaire.

Mobility matters. I'd rather take the highest paying work within 500miles vs. the highest paying work within 10miles. Also moving is not as trivial as he would make it seem.


I drive an hour to and from work each and every day of the work week, and I hate it. It was great catching up on podcasts...until I ran out.

I'm burning 2 hours of my life, each and every day...depressing.

I will move closer when my lease runs out, but I won't sell the car. I enjoy being able to travel this great state of Florida.


I feel your pain. It takes me 2 hours from the time I leave my garage till the time I get to the seat at my office. It's a mix of rail, car, and walking to NYC and back to central NJ, twice a day, 5 times per week. (Insert Reddit rage-face picture here)

Edit: 20 minute drive to the rail station with a five minute wait to board, then a one-hour train ride, then a 25 minute 1.25 mi walk. Both ways. Sometimes in snow.


That's why I drive a 11 year old Toyota!


The true cost of commuting is actually the stress that piles on you, bit by bit.. it can contribute to divorce, physical disease, high blood pressure, loneliness, etc. Just ask anyone that has to ride their car into NYC traffic, or even take the crowded subways on a daily basis.


In my eyes, this is the biggest cost of commuting, especially you're driving. It used to take my wife anywhere from 1-3 hours on her return trip (depending on rain, snow, traffic, people looking at flashing lights, etc. - it is Chicago after all).

She doesn't do that anymore. Now she drives 10 minutes maximum each. The less stress is very noticeable, both for her and me.


Yes. Around here in CT, it's fairly common to have a one hour train ride commute to Manhattan. Sure it is better than driving, but it still is pretty soul sucking according to my friends who have done it.


It's even worse going the other way because the trains aren't as frequent - or at least they weren't back then.

I used to commute from Brooklyn to Darien, CT. I'd leave home at about 6:00 am and get there just around 8:30. After about 2 months, I'd had enough...


Here here. I thought the reverse commute out of Manhattan wasn't too bad. Subsequently, I experienced first hand how utterly soul sucking it is.

On top of that, it isn't cheap! When you commute out of grand central in the morning, you pay a peak fare.




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