Transportation: Commute Time to Work

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What does commute time to work entail?

The commute time to work is the amount of travel time in minutes for people to get from home to work during an average week day.  This value includes methods of private vehicle use, carpooling, public transit, bicycling, or walking.  


How does commute time affect environmental quality?

Commute time to work indicates the density of a region and the efficiency of a transportation system.  Thus, a high commute time signifies a sprawled region and/or a lack of efficient transit.  A low commute time implies a dense region and/or an efficient transit system.  Environmentally, a longer commute represents increased air pollution as cars, buses, or trains emit pollutants while moving and sitting idle in traffic.  Additionally, a long commute time due to sprawl means a lower chance of utilization of alternative modes as increased distance leads to a desire for more convenience-which usually means the personal vehicle.  On the opposing side, a short commute signifies lower emissions. 


How does the commute time relate to sustainability?

            A low commute time indicates a more sustainable region due to the increased opportunity for alternatives modes—bus and light rail, decreased reliance on the personal vehicles, and higher pedestrian and bicyclists rates.  Lower car emissions   improve air quality, but also less car infrastructure (i.e. roads and parking lots) improves water quality, the hydrological cycle, and preserves habitat. 

            Thus, a high commute time indicates lower sustainability due to the likelihood of more pollutant emissions and roads, which results in lower air and water quality. 

            At this point, the question might be what constitutes a high or low time?  Like other infrastructure indicators, there is not a ‘good’ or ‘bad’ time value.  An educated determination of a ‘high’ or ‘low’ commute time is in consideration of the density, layout, and efficiency of the transportation system of a region.                  


How does commute time interconnect with other indicators?

            Commute time affects health – as asthma rates rise with increasing air pollution and obesity –since the mode of commute affects both air quality and the amount of physical activity.  Additionally, economic factors of energy and road costs are prevalent issues as personal vehicles result in extreme high costs for fuel, maintenance, worker wages for road construction, and purchasing land for parking lots and garages.  Commute time also affects quality of life.  A high commute time signifies less family and friend time, work time, and leisure time.  Work time is also related to worker productivity as those with long commutes are more tired, more likely to miss due to bad weather, and have lower morale due to the frustrations of traffic and loss of time.       


Next step?

            Examine the database of commute time to work.  After the examination of commute time to work proceed to the number of registered vehicles.     

Commute Time to Work Data


Author: Elisa Mayes