The True Cost of Commuting

I-80

Photo: Minesweeper (CC)

Via Mr. Money Mustache:

It was a beautiful evening in my neighborhood, and I was enjoying one of my giant homebrews on a deck chair I had placed in the middle of the street, as part of a nearby block’s Annual Street Party.

I was talking to a couple I had just met, and the topic turned to the beauty of the neighborhood. “Wow, I didn’t even realize this area was here”, the guy said, “It’s beautiful and old and the trees are giant and all of families hang out together outside as if it were still 1950!”. “Yeah”, said his wife, “We should really move here!”.

Then the discussion turned to the comparatively affordable housing, and the other benefits of living in my particular town. By the end of it, these people were verbally working out the details of a potential move within just a few months.

Except their plan was absurd. Because these two full-time professional workers currently happen to live and work in “Broomfield”, a city that is about 19 miles and 40 minutes of mixed high-traffic driving away from here. They brushed off the potential commute, saying “Oh, 40 minutes, that’s not too bad.”

Yes, actually it IS too bad! … 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.

More: Mr. Money Mustache

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bruce-Miller/100000952005408 Bruce Miller

    American Dream of the Golden Age of America supported by the Cheap Oil Era now ended! Asia saw this, built massive public transportation systems, in-factory dorms, cafeterias, to resolve and spread the expense evenly. America seeks to squeeze fuel, insurance, repairs, initial purchase costs, even gas-taxes to pay highway construction, and the whole  bureaucracy this entails onto the shoulders of the worker, then they strap him with a McMansion at usury rates and wonder why he wants bigger paychecks! Better a Chinese laborer, with no liabilities, and a full tummy? Cars deliberately built with planned obsolescence in the designs too? Cars with great heaving V-8 gas guzzling engines? Wings? Chromed dew-dads? multi colored? What is wrong with this picture? 

    • emperorreagan

      The US had in-factory dorms once-upon-a-time too.  It was called company housing.  It typically sucked and restricted your ability to leave abusive employers.  They also paid people in company scrip, so you couldn’t just pack up and leave them easily.  And before that, of course, you had indentured servitude and slavery.

      Not an argument for the way the US has structured its society, just pointing out that praising the life of a laborer in a Chinese factory might be a little off base – in particular because industry is up to the most of the shenanigans that were eventually outlawed or forced out of practice by labor unions in the West.

      Also, cars seem to be one of the few things that aren’t deliberately built with planned obsolescence in their designs.  With proper maintenance, many cars can last hundreds of thousands of miles.  It’s human desire and marketing that generally drive people to buy new cars, not obsolescence.

        

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Bruce-Miller/100000952005408 Bruce Miller

    American Dream of the Golden Age of America supported by the Cheap Oil Era now ended! Asia saw this, built massive public transportation systems, in-factory dorms, cafeterias, to resolve and spread the expense evenly. America seeks to squeeze fuel, insurance, repairs, initial purchase costs, even gas-taxes to pay highway construction, and the whole  bureaucracy this entails onto the shoulders of the worker, then they strap him with a McMansion at usury rates and wonder why he wants bigger paychecks! Better a Chinese laborer, with no liabilities, and a full tummy? Cars deliberately built with planned obsolescence in the designs too? Cars with great heaving V-8 gas guzzling engines? Wings? Chromed dew-dads? multi colored? What is wrong with this picture? 

  • BuzzCoastin

    For many people the need to commute
    is eliminated by the internet
    but the habit of going to the office
    is hard to break.

    At least 50% of those stuck in a traffic jam
    don’t really need to go to an office to do their job
    but most companies are Neanderthalic
    in their approaches to slave management.

    • quartz99

      That’s partly because companies can’t control you when you’re telecommuting. They can’t record what you’re doing, they can’t make you conform to the Party’s — er Company’s — dress code (which is a gateway for giving them permission to control the rest of your conduct and outside life). Many of them believe that if there weren’t supervisors who might randomly show up at your cubicle, that workers would all slack off and do no work. Sadly, it’s the small number of people that’s true about that ruin it for everyone.

      • BuzzCoastin

        True it is a control issue
        but that’s really a smoke screen for Neanderthals
        because you either do the job or you don’t
        and that should be easy to quantify.

        About 20 years ago I pioneered this approach with my employees
        (when I was a boss man for da Man)
        and it worked great
        except some of them missed the water cooler.

        • quartz99

          I telecommute. I definitely prefer it. Used to have an hour long commute. Probably the most expensive part of my budget, and took an otherwise reasonable work-day and made it my whole day. I’d get home and barely have time for dinner before having to go to bed so I could get up and do it again the next day.

          I do miss the folks in the office though. Good people.

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    For many people the need to commute
    is eliminated by the internet
    but the habit of going to the office
    is hard to break.

    At least 50% of those stuck in a traffic jam
    don’t really need to go to an office to do their job
    but most companies are Neanderthalic
    in their approaches to slave management.

  • Hadrian999

    In my opinion a major cost of commuting is the death of community,it weakens our ties to the cities we work in the suburbs it is common to stay isolated from the mcmansion dwellers around you.

    • Jin The Ninja

      completely concur, to me that is also the ‘greatest’ cost (alongside environmental). i do think it’s interesting however, that in my city (toronto), one cannot buy a 2 bedroom condo for less than 430,000 but if one is willing to take suburban rail (go train) one can buy a victorian mansion 40 mins away (hamilton) for 100,000.

      i completely see the appeal of buying away from a metro area, but i see more logic in participating in the community in which one lives. that afterall is the (9k year+) historical precedent for urban dwellers, not to mention practical.  in the case above, hamilton is widely derided as poor/working class and dirty- so of course there is a large exodus of artists from toronto proper (which is nearly ALL gentrified)  to hamilton.

      i think that’s telling of the contemporary processes of urban development and real estate in general.

  • Hadrian999

    In my opinion a major cost of commuting is the death of community,it weakens our ties to the cities we work in the suburbs it is common to stay isolated from the mcmansion dwellers around you.

  • Anonymous

    That’s partly because companies can’t control you when you’re telecommuting. They can’t record what you’re doing, they can’t make you conform to the Party’s — er Company’s — dress code (which is a gateway for giving them permission to control the rest of your conduct and outside life). Many of them believe that if there weren’t supervisors who might randomly show up at your cubicle, that workers would all slack off and do no work. Sadly, it’s the small number of people that’s true about that ruin it for everyone.

  • http://buzzcoastin.posterous.com BuzzCoastin

    True it is a control issue
    but that’s really a smoke screen for Neanderthals
    because you either do the job or you don’t
    and that should be easy to quantify.

    About 20 years ago I pioneered this approach with my employees
    (when I was a boss man for da Man)
    and it worked great
    except some of them missed the water cooler.

  • Anonymous

    I telecommute. I definitely prefer it. Used to have an hour long commute. Probably the most expensive part of my budget, and took an otherwise reasonable work-day and made it my whole day. I’d get home and barely have time for dinner before having to go to bed so I could get up and do it again the next day.

    I do miss the folks in the office though. Good people.

  • emperorreagan

    The US had in-factory dorms once-upon-a-time too.  It was called company housing.  It typically sucked and restricted your ability to leave abusive employers.  They also paid people in company scrip, so you couldn’t just pack up and leave them easily.  And before that, of course, you had indentured servitude and slavery.

    Not an argument for the way the US has structured its society, just pointing out that praising the life of a laborer in a Chinese factory might be a little off base – in particular because industry is up to the most of the shenanigans that were eventually outlawed or forced out of practice by labor unions in the West.

    Also, cars seem to be one of the few things that aren’t deliberately built with planned obsolescence in their designs.  With proper maintenance, many cars can last hundreds of thousands of miles.  It’s human desire and marketing that generally drive people to buy new cars, not obsolescence.

      

  • emperorreagan

    This analysis is pretty misleading – as misleading a the couple that would move without considering the cost of the commute.  It’s a poorly formulated optimization problem, where the only variable considered is the commute.  Perhaps in a world where there are no other constraints to consider and where jobs of identical quality, salary, and which meet an individual’s skill set are evenly distributed and housing is uniformly distributed by price, then it might make sense.  

  • emperorreagan

    This analysis is pretty misleading – as misleading a the couple that would move without considering the cost of the commute.  It’s a poorly formulated optimization problem, where the only variable considered is the commute.  Perhaps in a world where there are no other constraints to consider and where jobs of identical quality, salary, and which meet an individual’s skill set are evenly distributed and housing is uniformly distributed by price, then it might make sense.  

  • Anonymous

    completely concur, to me that is also the ‘greatest’ cost (alongside environmental). i do think it’s interesting however, that in my city (toronto), one cannot buy a 2 bedroom condo for less than 430,000 but if one is willing to take suburban rail (go train) one can buy a victorian mansion 40 mins away (hamilton) for 100,000.

    i completely see the appeal of buying away from a metro area, but i see more logic in participating in the community in which one lives. that afterall is the (9k year+) historical precedent for urban dwellers, not to mention practical.  in the case above, hamilton is widely derided as poor/working class and dirty- so of course there is a large exodus of artists from toronto proper (which is nearly ALL gentrified)  to hamilton.

    i think that’s telling of the contemporary processes of urban development and real estate in general.

  • http://www.zazzle.com/fantoccini* Gort

    We are living in a fantastic and exciting period of decentralization.

    Once hierarchical and bureaucratic powers are forced to get over themselves and their
    psychological need to be dominating other humans, they easily recognize people do not need
    to gather at a centralized work space. Very outdated industrial era concept based upon control
    and functional slavery.

    If they do not get over their emotional imbalances
    and psychological defectiveness then they will be made obsolete or obviated and cast into
    the dustbin of the past.

    By and large – everything everybody does can be done remotely or in a
    decentralized fashion.

    A persons home is his or her datacenter, workspace, music studio, art studio, observatory,
    library, communications center, repair shop, theater, botanical garden,
    sanctuary, on demand manufacturing facility, basically everything you need for enjoyment, work, and personal
    expression.

    Home may be considered the epicenter for all endeavors and interests.

    Cities are not necessary at all in the future. Small towns and clusters perhaps. On demand temporary townships for example.

    Verticalization, hierarchy, bureaucracy, centralization: all obsolete vestiges of bygone epochs.

    Anyone can do anything anywhere anytime.

    We provide the tools of decentralization such as
    communication systems and devices – yet – humans will still gather en masse and
    stand next to each other texting and communicating electronically despite not
    needing to be anywhere in proximity to one another.

    It is as if the cage door is open – and the creatures either run into the
    roadway to certain doom or stay in the cage in fear of freedom retaining their habitualized behaviours. While some innovative thinkers test
    the waters and make slow steady strides to personal emancipation.

    These types of socio-emotional dependencies differ from social interconnectedness in that that are practically involuntary rather than voluntary – habitualization to enslavement rather than logically and rationally driven decision making.

    This is also why it is unfortunate that what are considered modern future
    oriented companies such as Google and Apple and the like – are still nothing
    but outdated centralized, hierarchical, bureaucratic and political mechanisms
    based upon outdated system and leadership concepts and are invariably going to
    be dismantled through natural progressions and evolutionary trajectories.

    One last humorous development of late is the emerging creation of telepresence
    bots.

    They are missing the point entirely. You do not need to be there at all.

    Humans: distribute and decentralize yourselves. Gather as needed – not as demanded and dictated by outdated concepts and authoritative demands.
     

  • http://www.zazzle.com/fantoccini* Gort

    We are living in a fantastic and exciting period of decentralization.

    Once hierarchical and bureaucratic powers are forced to get over themselves and their
    psychological need to be dominating other humans, they easily recognize people do not need
    to gather at a centralized work space. Very outdated industrial era concept based upon control
    and functional slavery.

    If they do not get over their emotional imbalances
    and psychological defectiveness then they will be made obsolete or obviated and cast into
    the dustbin of the past.

    By and large – everything everybody does can be done remotely or in a
    decentralized fashion.

    A persons home is his or her datacenter, workspace, music studio, art studio, observatory,
    library, communications center, repair shop, theater, botanical garden,
    sanctuary, on demand manufacturing facility, basically everything you need for enjoyment, work, and personal
    expression.

    Home may be considered the epicenter for all endeavors and interests.

    Cities are not necessary at all in the future. Small towns and clusters perhaps. On demand temporary townships for example.

    Verticalization, hierarchy, bureaucracy, centralization: all obsolete vestiges of bygone epochs.

    Anyone can do anything anywhere anytime.

    We provide the tools of decentralization such as
    communication systems and devices – yet – humans will still gather en masse and
    stand next to each other texting and communicating electronically despite not
    needing to be anywhere in proximity to one another.

    It is as if the cage door is open – and the creatures either run into the
    roadway to certain doom or stay in the cage in fear of freedom retaining their habitualized behaviours. While some innovative thinkers test
    the waters and make slow steady strides to personal emancipation.

    These types of socio-emotional dependencies differ from social interconnectedness in that that are practically involuntary rather than voluntary – habitualization to enslavement rather than logically and rationally driven decision making.

    This is also why it is unfortunate that what are considered modern future
    oriented companies such as Google and Apple and the like – are still nothing
    but outdated centralized, hierarchical, bureaucratic and political mechanisms
    based upon outdated system and leadership concepts and are invariably going to
    be dismantled through natural progressions and evolutionary trajectories.

    One last humorous development of late is the emerging creation of telepresence
    bots.

    They are missing the point entirely. You do not need to be there at all.

    Humans: distribute and decentralize yourselves. Gather as needed – not as demanded and dictated by outdated concepts and authoritative demands.