Is commuting worth it?
Traffic jam in Germany. Source: Wikipedia
I have a pretty easy commute. Living and working in New Hampshire, winter storms affect my driving more than other drivers. But it hasn’t always been that way. For a while I worked in Boston, racing along I-95 to then take a commuter train to work downtown. And for a short time I lived in Brooklyn and commuted to Queens along the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, “the world’s longest parking lot.”
When people live and work in major cities like New York, London, or Tokyo, they have to deal with hoards of other folks trying to get to their jobs around the same time. Sometimes, an idiosyncratic schedule can be a blessing. When my brother worked for a financial firm in San Francisco, he had to be at work at 5 in the morning. The roads weren’t too crowded then, or when he got out, at 3 in the afternoon.
Most big cities use rail and other mass transit vehicles to shuttle people around. But that can be uncomfortable, costly, and smelly. The subways in Tokyo are famously so crowded that the transit authority employs “pushers” to jam as many people as possible into the cars. There’s a big difference between a relaxing ride listening to an audiobook and a smelly, standing commute where you’re all squashed together.
Subway pusher in Tokyo. Source: Wikipedia
The Financial Times compiled an index of commuting costs for six global cities, in which they evaluated time, costs, and timeliness of commuting to the city-center from different locations. They tried to use property values to evaluate the commute from comparable locations. It’s interesting to see how the different places stack up. London appears the most costly; Shanghai, the least.
Source: Financial Times
Generally, cities in Asia have shorter, cheaper commutes. That may be due to the fact that their commuting systems are newer. The London Underground, after all, is over 150 years old. And older systems are less reliable, needing repairs and refurbishment.
People put up with the hassles of commuting because the cities are where the jobs are. Putting people together who have similar skills creates opportunity and value. It’s why different industries seem to settle in the same geographical region: Detroit for cars, Silicon Valley for tech, New York City for finance. Ultimately, folks have to decide for themselves how best to handle the trade-offs and hassles that come with travelling over an hour each way to get to their jobs.
I’m just glad I don’t have to deal with subway pushers here.
Douglas R. Tengdin, CFA