Swinson: Brits spend as much time commuting as they do on holiday

Are you spending half your August Bank Holiday Monday stuck in a traffic jam? Well, just think of it as extra vacation. Lib Dem research has revealed that the average British commuter spends the equivalent of 23 working days per year travelling to and from work; a Londoners’ average yearly commute is 1,370 miles.

Lib Dem MP Jo Swinson, who is Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Wellbeing Economics, comments:

Commuting is often an incredibly frustrating experience, whether you are on a crowded train platform staring at your watch, crammed on to a bus or tube train or stuck in a traffic jam. Even moderate commutes make people less happy – something the Government’s own research shows.

“It is incredible to think we spend as much time going to and from work as we do going on holiday. The Government should concentrate on easing the plight of commuters by investing in faster trains, fewer crowded carriages and more bus schemes.”

The story was picked up by the Telegraph here.

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  • I wonder how this will change if Cable gets his way and we have to stop at toll booths every five minutes?

  • My sympathy with Jo’s argument is tempered.

    As liberals, we believe in allowing people to make life choices, amongst which is the choice to commute. I acknowledge that there are many who commute for financial necessity, but I suspect that they are a minority, comprising the poorest and those most likely to use public or shared transport. Low paid people learn quickly about the economics and the cost-benefit of commuting, so when they travel long distances it has to be worth it for them.

    Alas the Telegraph piece doesn’t include a study that explains why people choose to commute and the downsides. If such a study existed, the narratives would be “my lovely garden that I never visit” or “never met the neighbours”.

    For most people, the ideal home location would be a ten minute walk from work with a decent garden, social amenities, esp schools and good neighbours. The ideal rarely exists, and in the search for something that approximates to it, people extend the traveling distance, failing to acknowledge that travel-to-work time is unpaid work time. The unpaid work may be conducted in an environment that is less pleasant than paid work. It’s time away from your home.

    Jo and colleagues had a go at air brushed TV adverts that presented an unrealistic expectation of womanhood. Television programmes about property buying and rejuvenation share the same artifice as cosmetics adverts. TV enforces the requirement to keep up with the neighbours. Few of us will buy our ideal home, so how do you convince somebody in north London that they would be happier buying a local property rather than Bucks?

  • Antony Hook 31st Aug '09 - 7:41pm

    I think Jo is really onto something here. We should be able to find ways for more people to work closer to home, or work from home more often.

    If you do commute the quality of the journey is as important as the length. 30 minutes on a train where you can sit and read or relax is probably better than 15 minutes standing and being squashed like a sardine.

  • The obvious way to make London commuter journeys shorter would be to move the green belt out, so that people don’t have to trek across it.
    And in many case faster commuting means more roads.
    Are we prepared to advocate either?

  • Charlieman – I really don’t understand your comment. I work in Edinburgh, but live across the bridge in Fife and have about a 30 minute journey into work. I don’t consider myself poor by any means, and wouldn’t consider my colleagues poor either – most of whom also commute. The reason? A two bedroom flat within walking distance of my work can cost in excess of £250,000. Why on earth would I want that when I can have a four bedroom house with a garden for the same amount in Fife?

    If we’re going to accept that businesses will continue to base themselves in cities with high house prices then we need to start looking at more and better forms of flexible working practices. We could also look at incentive schemes to try and get businesses out of high-cost places like central Edinburgh or the City of London to areas nearby such as the western approaches to Edinburgh or Fife – again, given modern technology, the antiquated idea of “needing to be where the action is” should no longer apply. Most people will move with their jobs if it’s not too far, particularly at present.

  • Martin Kinsella 1st Sep '09 - 4:10pm

    Apart from this soundbite

    “The Government should concentrate on easing the plight of commuters by investing in faster trains, fewer crowded carriages and more bus schemes.”

    There are no real solutions here. Where is the money to come from and how long is it going to take to get this sorted. New/additional rolling stock will take years, faster trains need upgrades to the track and that is decades.

    What about all of the businesses on industrial estates in the middle of nowhere with no bus services. It is not feasible to lay buses on.

    Sadly it ignores the fact that the car is as much a part of our future transport as buses and trains.

    169 hours commuting a year is nothing. It is less than an hour a day.

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