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The commuting paradox

Old 07-27-11, 03:08 PM
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The commuting paradox

Read the full article here:
https://www.ecovelo.info/2011/07/27/t...ing-paradox-2/

According to a paper by the Swiss economists Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, a person with a one-hour car commute must earn 40 percent more money to have a sense of well-being equal to someone who walks (or rides their bike) to work. Fey and Stutzer say that people underestimate the down side of a long commute when choosing a home, and that psychologically, a long commute often negates the benefits gained by living in the suburbs.

From the paper Stress That Doesn’t Pay: The Commuting Paradox:

“People spend a lot of time commuting and often find it a burden. According to economics, the burden of commuting is chosen when compensated either on the labor or on the housing market so that individuals’ utility is equalized. However, in a direct test of this strong notion of equilibrium, we find that people with longer commuting time report systematically lower subjective well-being. Additional empirical analyses do not find institutional explanations of the empirical results that commuters systematically incur losses. We discuss several possibilities of an extended model of human behavior able to explain this “commuting paradox”.”
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Old 07-27-11, 03:33 PM
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"a person with a one-hour car commute must earn 40 percent more money to have a sense of well-being equal to someone who walks (or rides their bike) to work."

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

While I don't argue the concept, the above techo-babble by an "expert" who can articulate the proper jargon to tell us what we already know is priceless. Yes, bicycle commuting can reduce stress and improve well-being.
Concluding that a 40% pay increase will "equalize utilty" using economic models is the talk of a bar-room genius.
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Old 07-27-11, 04:12 PM
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I think that the paper (or the summary of it) misses the point.

The realistic comparison would be between those who have long commute, and those who have not commute at all - because they are unemployed.

Almost no one that I know who has a very long commute bought a house with that in mind. Most people I known bought a house with a reasonable commute and then were let go, and had to find a new job.

Almost every one that I know who is stuck with a long commute has had to balance a number of factors - selling/buying a house, moving the kids to a new school system, price of real estate closer to work, etc. Every one of them would love a shorter commute, all of other factors being the same. But they never are. :-)

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Old 07-27-11, 04:50 PM
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While I can't argue that many people have long commutes because they changed jobs, there are plenty of people that choose a long commute because that's the closest place they can live that meets their housing criteria. This is very much the case in the northeastern U.S., maybe not so much in N.C.
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Old 07-27-11, 07:21 PM
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I just moved jobs and relocated from a rental to buying a (smaller) house JUST so I could commute by bicycle. In the past six days of my (new) commute, my quality of life has skyrocketed, seriously. My commute went from 13 miles in a car (30 minutes) to 2 miles on my bike (10 minutes) -- my housing costs went up, but it is a fantastic trade-off!
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Old 07-28-11, 12:27 PM
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The paper (https://ftp.iza.org/dp1278.pdf) does not mention cars, bicycles, walking or any other means of transportation. It only says at one point that one of the factors which can make commuting stressful are congestions (and it uses the word "driving" there).

The paper analyzes the trade-off between having a longer commute (= more stress) and having a better-paying job (= less stress). This is a trade-off because you can get a better job if you're prepared to commute farther.

They are then quantifying that trade-off based on various statistics, and in a footnote, claim that it takes a 40% higher salary to compensate the stress caused by an 1-hour commute. It does not relate this to the type of transportation used.

The ecovelo blog then draws a bunch of pro-cycling conclusions from this, but they are their conclusions. They are not in the paper, and unless ecovelo knows something I don't, they're pulled out of thin air.
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Old 07-28-11, 12:35 PM
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I don't have a link to the source anymore, but the quote below was taken from an article published in a local paper almost 2 years ago:

...almost 40 per cent of people in a Statistics Canada study reported they actually enjoy their commute [by car], as long as it’s not too long. The number leaps to 59 per cent for cyclists (another reason for motorists to hate them) and 46 per cent for walkers. It plummets to 23 per cent for public transit users, mostly because it takes longer. When commuting times are the same by train or car, people reported the same satisfaction levels. Those who liked their jobs were also happier commuters — 64 per cent said they liked it.
So, other studies have shown that bicycle commuting does indeed have a higher satisfaction rate than by car or bus/train.
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Old 07-28-11, 03:44 PM
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I think it kind of depends on the traffic involved. I had a former boss who purposely bought a house approximately 40 minutes away by car. He said not only was the house cheaper, but it also gave him a chance to psych up or cool down after work. However there was limited traffic to contend with.

Right now I am looking for a place to rent and a reasonable commute time by bike is definitely a priority.
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Old 07-28-11, 06:05 PM
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My husband is happy with a long commute (hour by car) as long as it isn't a congested commute because it enables him to process information that would otherwise occupy his mental bandwidth when home. The cost differential in housing (to be closer to his work at the minimal housing he found acceptable) is over $100k on original purchase and at least $8k/yr in taxes. Realisticly, the house he has would be $400k more within a half hour biking range of his work. So it is definitly a trade off. I'm happier at my house (we live in different cities due to work) because I can bike to just about anything conveniently. The more I bike, the more I like biking, and the better I feel. But I do love his house and will be moving there when I graduate (though I think I found a clinic to consider purchasing within a 5 mile bike ride of our house!)
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Old 07-28-11, 06:13 PM
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the Swiss still get to take the trolley to work , because they kept improving them ,
instead of tearing them out and Burning them..
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Old 07-28-11, 10:29 PM
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I commute by bike because I love it. It is alone time, it is invigorating and it is physically conditioning. I'm smarter, stronger and happier because of it.
Sucking air, working muscles and pumping blood around the body is already known to do that. God bless endorphins!

I do get that commuting may be a necessity for some people - job changers, for example. I know plenty of people in that situation - the old job gave out and their new one is further from home than before.
But, if I had to make a long commute by auto, I would do a multi-modal. I'd carry my bike on a rack, park the car somewhere 10-12 miles from work, and ride my bike to and from my car.

I'm thinking the study recognizes something I could have told them for a lot less time and money.
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Old 07-29-11, 06:41 PM
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Originally Posted by exile
I think it kind of depends on the traffic involved. I had a former boss who purposely bought a house approximately 40 minutes away by car. He said not only was the house cheaper, but it also gave him a chance to psych up or cool down after work. However there was limited traffic to contend with.

Right now I am looking for a place to rent and a reasonable commute time by bike is definitely a priority.
Traffic-free commutes aren't bad at all. I used to have a 30 minute commute, but it was all on 75 mph interstate that was surprisingly scenic (rolling hills and long views). I really enjoyed it. 30 minutes to chill out and listen to music before and after work. Never once ran into a traffic jam, and only had a handful of stoplights off either end of the interstate. However, that was when gas was $2/gallon. I also liked the 20 minute bus ride to campus I had in graduate school. 20 minutes to chill out and listen to music before class. Not a bad way to start the day.

A friend of mine lives in a rural area and has a 45 minute commute on very scenic, rural 2-lane roads through the National Forest without a single stoplight. I'm a bit jealous.

Right now I have a 3 mile commute, all on city streets. I much prefer riding my bike. Additionally, since I drive so seldom, when I leave the city to go somewhere else I find I actually enjoy driving. Another job I had in the past required me to drive at least an hour in heavy urban traffic every day, which made me despise driving.
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Old 07-29-11, 09:04 PM
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Interesting. Exchanging a one hour drive for a bike commute obviously has some monetary value and I don't doubt that for a certain income bracket 40% is in the ballpark.
However, at the lower more subsistance based level, where providing the essentials is a challange, my guess is that many would gladly exchange a bike commute for a 40% raise that involved a one hour drive.

Bottom line is that generalizations make great news teasers and headlines, but are poor substitutions for more the more nuanced analysis that shows the whole picture.
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Old 07-29-11, 10:56 PM
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"However, in a direct test of this strong notion of equilibrium, we find that people with longer commuting time report systematically lower subjective well-being."

Well that sucks because my bi-modal commute bike/bus takes at least an hour longer each way than driving back roads does. It's just cheaper (err, free actually) and gives me my workout.
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