Two days a week, Thursday and Fridays to be exact, I get to experience what being a real person is truly like. I wake up at the crack of dawn to take the 6:58 A.M. train into Newark Penn Station. At Newark I transfer onto the PATH train and take the World Trade Center line into Jersey City. Although my commute from New Brunswick to Jersey City seemed daunting at first, I realized that often times (aka when I catch the express train) it takes less than an hour. Looking around on the train it occurred to me that everyone was doing the same exact thing. However, unlike me, this was a part of their daily routine all year long. For many of my fellow commuters they traveled from much further distances and required far greater modes of transportation. I began to think about the cars they probably had to drive, or be driven in, to get to the train station. I began to think about the busses, bikes, and connecting trains they had taken before they got to this point. I thought about the cabs, subway trains, and ferry rides that awaited them once they got off on their stops.
As I sat there looking around at these men and women I wondered why they had picked to live so far from the places they worked. Not only did these people lose money by having to pay for their commutes into work, they also lost something more precious: their time. Time they could have used to be with their families, eat a hearty breakfast, or more importantly sleep. Through various history courses, both in high school and in college, I know why most people prefer to live in suburban areas. I know about the effects of industrialization, technology, and Levittowns. From my U.S. Housing Policy course I even know about the financial incentives, such as home mortgage interest deductions, which have encouraged many people to purchase homes. From common sense, I know that you get more bang for your buck the further away you get from the city. However, I couldn’t help but think about how much more convenient, sustainable, and simpler life would be if people didn’t have to commute as far for their jobs.
Of course, the situation is far more complex and there are many factors at play as to why people commute such long distances. An article aptly titled “A Very Brief History of Why Americans Hate Their Commutes” documents the shifting nature of work that continues to shape our commutes. The article goes on to summarize a report from AASHTO, a nonprofit, nonpartisan association that strives “to foster the development, operation, and maintenance of an integrated national transportation system.”
AASHTO‘s Commuting in America Report notes that while the interrelationship of commuting and other travel is dynamic, commuting for work still remains the most significant market for both roadway and public transit travel. However, the report does state travel to and from work is at a historic low with leisure and vacation travel on the rise. It’s difficult to predict what is going to happen in the future. In recent years there has been much speculation about whether or not Millennials will choose to live closer to urban centers. Although it is unknown where my generation will be calling home, our living patterns may be shaped by how much commuting sucks.