Uncovering America's Longest Commutes

<p>Americans' commutes are increasing. The number of 'extreme commuters' -- those who commute over 3 hours -- has nearly doubled since 1990. The longest commute in the nation? Seven hours each way. Is the extreme commute America's newest addiction</p>
April 11, 2007, 1pm PDT | Chris Steins | @urbaninsight
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"Judy Rossi, a legal secretary at Arnold & Porter, a firm in Manhattan, who has a commute of three hours and fifteen minutes each way-six and a half hours a day, five days a week. If you discount vacation time, this adds up to two months a year. Rossi lives in Pike County, Pennsylvania, in the northeast corner of the state. (It is the fastest-growing county in Pennsylvania, owing in part to an infusion of extreme commuters.) Her alarm goes off at 4:30 A.M. She's out of the house by six-fifteen and at her desk at nine-thirty. She gets home each evening at around eight-forty-five. The first thing Rossi said to me, when we met during her lunch break one day, was 'I am not insane.' "

..." 'Drive until you qualify' is a phrase that real-estate agents use to describe a central tenet of the commuting life: you travel away from the workplace until you reach an exit where you can afford to buy a house that meets your standards. The size of the wallet determines that of the mortgage, and therefore the length of the commute. Although there are other variables (schools, spouse, status, climate, race, religion, taxes, taste) and occasional exceptions (inner cities, Princeton), in this equation you're trading time for space, miles for square feet. Sometimes contentment figures in, and sometimes it does not."

..."Commuter-wise, New York City is an anomaly. New Yorkers have the highest average journey-to-work times (thirty-nine minutes) of any city in the country, but are apparently much happier with their commutes than people are elsewhere. It could be that New Yorkers are better conditioned to megalopolitan hardships, or that public transportation ameliorates some of the psychic costs. Or maybe they're better at lying to themselves."

..."Three years ago, two economists at the University of Zurich, Bruno Frey and Alois Stutzer, released a study called "Stress That Doesn't Pay: The Commuting Paradox.' They found that, if your trip is an hour each way, you'd have to make forty per cent more in salary to be as 'satisfied' with life as a noncommuter is. (Their data come from Germany, where you'd think speedy Autobahns and punctual trains would bring a little Freude to the proceedings, and their methodology is elaborate and thorough, if impenetrable to the layman, relying on equations like U=?+ß1D+ß2D2+?X+?1w+?2w2+?3log y.) The commuting paradox reflects the notion that many people, who are supposedly rational (according to classical economic theory, at least), commute even though it makes them miserable. They are not, in the final accounting, adequately compensated."

Thanks to Peter Gordon

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Published on Tuesday, April 10, 2007 in The New Yorker
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