Crushed by the commute

Some commuters spend more time getting to work than taking holidays each year.
Some commuters spend more time getting to work than taking holidays each year. Photo: Arsineh Houspian

In which Australian city do commuters spend more time travelling to work than they do on holidays?

It's hardly surprising that many Australians hate commuting, with public transport and road systems squeezed at the seams, making travel a sweaty, stressful, often stinky experience.

Now a recent survey has found that NSW city commuters are the worst off in Australia. Not only do they have the slowest commute of any capital city, they are also likely to spend more time getting to work than taking holidays each year.

According to the survey of more than 720 NRMA members, 24 per cent spent up to an hour and a half a day commuting to and from work each day. This worked out at about 22 days a year.

That is an extra two whole days spent getting intimate with coughing and spluttering strangers (incidentally, the most annoying type, according to the survey), instead of lying on the beach somewhere getting intimate with a mojito or, at least, with someone of your choosing

"Commuting is a great way to wind down, if you get a seat," said NRMA spokesperson Peter Khoury. "But, if you're stuck in congestion it's not much fun and [can be] more stressful … than being at work."

He would like to see more parking spaces near train stations and bus stops, and more cycleways. "We need to do more to fix public transport and the roads, certainly in NSW. We can't allow infrastructure to fall behind and then wonder why we're [unhappy]."

Not only unhappy. Commuting time has been linked to higher levels of back pain, higher cholesterol, and higher levels of obesity. Although, Alan Davies of Crikey contests this claim and points out that commuting is a good thing: it means you have a job.

Andrew May, a management coach at The Performance Clinic in Sydney, is inclined to agree. Living further away is a lifestyle choice for many, he says. "You want to live closer to the coast … or houses (near the city) are too expensive, so you have to go further out." Either way, "most people have to commute so we need to focus on the positives - that it's giving you money."

However he acknowledges that too much travel time is detrimental. "If you leave at 6 am and don't get home until 6.30 or 7pm … and you're too tired to exercise and you put on weight, it's a vicious cycle… or for young parents it can create anxiety if you're getting back when the kids are in bed."

He says the solution to minimising commuter stress is maximising your use of travel time. Depending on your job, you may be able to spend fewer hours in the office and instead use your journey to and from by clearing out your inbox or working. If you can't work, you can catch up on other interests: learn a language, or apply relaxation techniques.

If the commute is still killing you, he suggests negotiating to work from home one or two days per week, if you can. Working from home, without distractions, can be far more productive for knowledge workers, he points out. Companies have also reported increased productivity directly as a result of offering workers flexibility. Plus it shaves two to three hours of travel time off those days. "But, you must be proactive."

Or you could bypass commuter chaos altogether, by hotfooting it over to Perth (the fastest average commuter times in Australia) or jump on a Jet Lev water powered flying device for a novel commute to a harbourside workplace.

But until you have a cool $100,000 for one of those, it's worth looking on the bright side; crappy as your commute may be, someone else always has it worse.

■ Some people in Mexico have a round trip of over four hours per day.

■ We don't have to get to work via Bolivia's Yungas Road, which literally translates to 'Death Road' and claims some 300 lives each year.

■ Some children in China scale 1,000 foot high cliffs (almost as high as the Eiffel Tower) on their 200 kilometre journey to school.

■ There are tower climbers in America whose commute involves scaling to the summit of a 1,700 foot structure (higher than the Empire State Building and around 200 metres taller than Sydney Tower), sometimes without harnesses to fix electrical problems.

■ Students in Juarez, Mexico make a high-risk commute daily from the drug cartel-driven border city, where over 1000 people were killed in 2011, to attend the University of Texas-El Paso.

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