What Makes A City Bad For Commuting?

A global survey by IBM suggests that Mexico City offers the worst commuting experience in the world. But just what factors contribute to making getting to and from work so unimpressive?

IBM’s “Commuter Pain” survey of 8,042 commuters in six countries didn’t include any Australian locations in its list, so we can’t draw any conclusions about whether it sucks more to drive in Sydney than it does in Singapore. (Big Blue chose “the most economically important cities” — ouch!)

But one surprising finding was that improving roads doesn’t, in itself, make a big difference to the commuting experience. More specifically, while many respondents said traffic had improved in their cities, their perceived levels of stress from that traffic had actually increased as well. Or as the announcement release put it: “while the commute has become a lot more bearable over the past year, drivers’ complaints are going through the roof”.

Maybe that just means we’re a bunch of whining ninnies. But the elements which it used to rank those cities are worth considering when you’re assessing your own daily commute. The index considers two material factors — the time spent to get to work and the time stuck in traffic — and whether the respondent agreed with eight propositions: that petrol is too expensive, that traffic has become worse, that traffic inconsistency is a problem, that driving is inherently stressful, that driving makes you angry, that traffic makes your job harder, that traffic sucks so much you’ve stopped driving, and that traffic problems stop you making particular trips. You may not be able to do much about the material issues, but assuming the experience is going to suck in advance clearly isn’t going to help.

We already know that the average Australian drives an awful lot, and that suggesting using public transport more generally produces three broad responses: “public transport is so bad I can’t use it”, “there’s no public transport in regional areas” or “it’s impossible not to have a car if you have children”. The last one is a pretty weak argument given the length of time humanity thrived without cars; in a commuting context, the regional argument can be counterbalanced by the fact that there’s not much of a rush hour in most smaller towns anyway.

I certainly wouldn’t argue against the fact that public transport could be improved in frequency and reliability in most Australian cities. But with that said, I don’t see too many of us happily agreeing to fund it through taxes. But if we don’t want to do that, maybe complaining about our commute is a tad disingenuous. At the very least, maybe we should think about some of those parameters and work out if we can improve our own experience and attitude. Thoughts?

IBM Global Commuter Pain Survey [via The 9 Billion]

Lifehacker Australia editor Angus Kidman freely admits to timing his journeys to and from work to avoid massive crowds on the train. His Road Worrier column, looking at technology and organising tips for travellers, appears each week on Lifehacker.

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