Home Transportation Should We Feel Bad For Long-Haul Commuters?

Should We Feel Bad For Long-Haul Commuters?


It seems like every week, there’s a new article telling us we should feel bad for long-drive commuters. Take, for example, this new Reuters article is titled Hate your commute? Then pity workers in Beijing, Mexico City. It reports on the results of the IBM Commuter Pain Study, saying traffic’s getting worse, people hate it, and it’s affecting their professional performance & personal health.

However, it closes with this:

But despite the frustrations and the economic downturn, few commuters had changed the way they go to work with 84 percent saying the financial crisis had not stopped them driving to work.

“Even though commuters say the traffic is getting worse, for some reason people seem fond of their cars,” said Lamba who hoped the information from the survey could be used by transport officials to better understand and manage traffic flow.

So basically, long-drive commuters hate their trip so much, they aren’t changing a thing. And that would be fine, except we’re constantly being told by elected officials how we have to spend more tax dollars to ease the drives of people who are doing nothing to ease their own commuting pain.

Should we help people who won’t help themselves? I know there are few transit options in the far-out suburbs, but if there was public outcry, the options would be there. This survey seems to indicate people would rather sit in their cars and complain than carpool or lobby for new a bus route.

  • Paradox13VA

    My wife is taking a new job, 2 miles from our home, to eliminate her cross-Potomac, 40 mile commute. In fact she’ll probably be biking to work next summer.

    The issue cuts both ways though, my wife had the OPTION of taking a job closer to home. Many folks don’t. Don’t blame us and our neighbors for wanting to raise our kids in a good school district in a place we can afford them to each have their own bedroom. Not everyone can live in a condo in Arlington and commute on the Metro.  

  • martinlomasney

    “. . .people who won’t help themselves . . .”

    Shall we end unemployment insurance next?

    The long commuters I know don’t have a McMansion at the home end of their commute but a humble ranch, which is the most they could afford on their meager pay.

    80% of Americans want to live in a single family home. This preference has existed for more than 160 years in the U.S.  In order to provide a modest home for their family, they “drive ’til they qualify.”  To afford a single family ranch in Arlington, they’d have to make over $125,000 per year.

    The “long commute” is a direct result of 50 years of exclusionary zoning practices by Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William.  Until there is a state mandated linkage between the location of jobs and single family homes affordable to those workers, our grandchildren will be dealing with the “long commute.”

    To answer your question, if you want Democrats to get elected, empathy towards those who suffer the “time tax” of the long commute should been the guiding emotion, not the condescension or derision displayed in this diary.

  • as long as gasoline in this country is the cheapest in the developed world, and as long as sprawl is subsidized in a gazillion other ways, people will tend to live in suburbia and exurbia.  If that situation changes, either through policy choices or “peak oil” or a huge oil supply disruption, so will settlement patterns. Until then, they almost certainly won’t. End of story.

  • Teddy Goodson

    in earlier eras, too; rural villas and manors spread across Roman Britain under the pax Romana. It ceased when the legions were withdrawn, and the influx of the Saxons and, soon after, raids by the Vikings, began; the dispersed populations were either wiped out, or withdrew to urban centers, built walls for defense, and de-populated the countryside; the Romano Britons withdrew to the highlands of Wales and Scotland. Anglo-Saxon Britain was made up primarily of rural villages and yeoman farmers with a few urban market centers which we would call towns. Then came the Normans, who built castles everywhere.

    Dispersed populations were also the order in Hokkaido of feudal Japan, after the Japanese conquered Hokkaido from the Ainu… unlike in Honshu, where the lower class farmers clustered in villages and went out from the village to work the rice paddies.

    In other words, suburbs are simply a modern dispersal of populations and reflect the times. I agree, the American system of suburbs is wasteful and unsustainable, but as times change, so will the living style.  

    • Right, some people choose bigger houses further out (a choice encouraged by the federal government’s pro-big house, pro-sprawl tax policies), some people choose smaller places closer in. The question is, should we all have to pay more — taxes, environmental & public health costs — for more & wider highways for the people who live further out if they themselves don’t really mind the long haul?

  • TomPaine

    “The “long commute” is a direct result of 50 years of exclusionary zoning practices by Fairfax, Loudoun, Prince William.  Until there is a state mandated linkage between the location of jobs and single family homes affordable to those workers, our grandchildren will be dealing with the “long commute.”

    I worked for 15 years as a lobbyist for the residential rental housing industry in Virginia; while we supported “affordable housing,” localities most often wanted rental housing affordable only for middle class entry level positions and teachers, police, firefighters, and other government employees. Towns like Vienna unlawfully resisted allowing Section 8 housing vouchers for low income minorities and others in their jurisdictions, thus forcing many of these people to lower-cost,outlying counties thus increasing sprawl and longer commute driving.

    Exlusionary zoning by the outer-beltway local govermments has been and continues to be a principal cause for sprawl and long distance commutes in the Northern Virgina area.

    • martinlomasney

      1) it would encompass all urbanization of humanity everywhere throughout historic time.

      One using that definition and opposing “sprawl” would be opposing civilization. A curious position for a Democrat whose party has been based in the cities for most of the last century.

      2) most expanding urban areas contain an increasing population not “the same given population.”

      • Who said anything about elections? Do you really believe any of this or are you just knee-jerk disagreeing with whatever the Democrat says?  

      • …I don’t think there’s been polling on whether Americans “prefer” single-family homes for “more than 160 years.” In fact, “1950 was the first year that more people lived in suburbs than elsewhere.” Prior to that, most people lived on farms or in cities.  I strongly recommend you read the book, Suburban Nation, which explains all of this.

        Suburban sprawl, now the standard North American pattern of growth, ignores historical precedent and human experience. It is an invention, conceived by architects, engineers, and planners, and promoted by developers in the great sweeping aside of the old that occurred after the Second World War. Unlike the traditional neighborhood model, which evolved organically as a response to human needs, suburban sprawl is an idealized artificial system. It is not without a certain beauty: it is rational, consistent, and comprehensive. Its performance is largely predictable. It is an outgrowth of modern problem solving: a system for living. Unfortunately, this system is already showing itself to be unsustainable. Unlike the traditional neighborhood, sprawl is not healthy growth; it is essentially self-destructive. Even at relatively low population densities, sprawl tends not to pay for itself financially and consumes land at an alarming rate, while producing insurmountable traffic problems and exacerbating social inequity and isolation. These particular outcomes were not predicted. Neither was the toll that sprawl exacts from America’s cities and towns, which continue to decant slowly into the countryside. As the ring of suburbia grows around most of our cities, so grows the void at the center. Even while the struggle to revitalize deteriorated downtown neighborhoods and business districts continues, the inner ring of suburbs is already at risk, losing residents and businesses to fresher locations on a new suburban edge.


        How did sprawl come about? Far from being an inevitable evolution or a historical accident, suburban sprawl is the direct result of a number of policies that conspired powerfully to encourage urban dispersal. The most significant of these were the Federal Housing Administration and Veterans Administration loan programs which, in the years following the Second World War, provided mortgages for over eleven million new homes. These mortgages, which typically cost less per month than paying rent, were directed at new single-family suburban construction. Intentionally or not, the FHA and VA programs discouraged the renovation of existing housing stock, while turning their back on the construction of row houses, mixed-use buildings, and other urban housing types. Simultaneously, a 41,000-mile interstate highway program, coupled with federal and local subsidies for road improvement and the neglect of mass transit, helped make automotive commuting affordable and convenient for the average citizen. Within the new economic framework, young families made the financially rational choice: Levittown. Housing gradually migrated from historic city neighborhoods to the periphery, landing increasingly farther away.