The word commuter derives from early days of rail travel in US cities such as New York and Chicago, where, in the 1840s, residents of the suburbs were offered a reduced or ‘commuted’ fare into the city. Nowadays, it’s defined as a regular period of travel between home to your usual or permanent place of work and then back again.
The average person spends 56 minutes commuting every working day according to the TUC, and this figure has been rising steadily over the last 10 years. That’s a good week of your life given up to traveling to and fro every year. And if that isn’t bad enough, it costs an average £148 a month for the privilege – £135,871 by the time you retire!
How your commute makes a difference
According to the RAC Report on Motoring 2015, 50% of respondents in its survey drive themselves to work each day and a further 13% travel as a passenger. 15% of commuters use some form of public transport to get to work, while 12% walk and 4% cycle.
The Department for Transport says in the North East it takes drivers an average of 21 minutes to get to work, but just 18 minutes on their bike and 15 minutes walking. Those using a rail service have to be patient for 49 minutes while the bus or coach delivers them in 33 minutes.
However, those in the South West have a 25 minute commute by car, 17 minutes by bike and 61 minutes by rail. Getting on their motorbike takes an average 21 minutes and walkers spend 15 minutes pounding the streets on their way to work.
Some of us travel for hours each day to get to work. According to the Office for National Statistics, which has an interactive map showing commuting distances:
- Cornwall sends 568 people to work in Ipswich, 399 to Coventry, 367 to Northumberland and 284 make it as far as the Highlands.
- Nearly 250,000 people go to Cornwall for work – 154 of them from Doncaster, 116 from Stockton-On-Tees and 281 from Tower Hamlets, London.
- 367 people like living in Ipswich but work in North Dorset.
- 237 people living in Islington, North London, commute to Aberdeen.
- 475 people from Sevenoaks in Kent travel each week to Dumfries and Galloway.
A TUC study also revealed the number of us commuting two hours per day increased by 72% from 1.7 million in 2004, to 3 million in 2014, and those travelling for three or more hours a day rose by 75%, from 500,000 to 880,000. Women have borne the brunt of this growth in long commuting, with a 90% per cent rise in those travelling for two hours or more each day, and a 131% per cent increase in those travelling three hours or more since 2004.
Extra commuting costs
The price of the ticket is a cost that can’t be avoided, but it’s the extras that can really eat into our wages. An American Express survey revealed we spend almost £100 a month on treats, including snacks, coffee, magazines and apps to ease the boredom of our commute. Annually commuters in Birmingham spend £1,758 a year on treats, those in Leicester £854, Plymouth £739, Bristol £692 and Brighton comparatively £611 a year.
Commuting’s carbon footprint
Then there is the environmental impact of our commute. The only commutes that don’t leave a carbon footprint are walking, cycling or driving a fully electric car to work. Unfortunately the numbers of us walking or cycling are not increasing very quickly.
In the East of England, 11% of us walk to work and 5% cycle – against 11% and 3% in 2002. In Yorkshire 12% walk and 3% cycle – up from 10% and 3%. In the West Midlands 9% walk and 2% cycle, the same as 2002, and in the South East 10% and 3% walk and cycle respectively, against a fall from 10% and 4% in 2002.
The BBC has also looked at how different forms of commute damage the environment. It assumed the average commuter travelled 4,343 miles to and from work each year. Here’s how they stack up:
- A train emits 0.48 tonnes of CO2 per passenger.
- A tram emits 0.54 tonnes of CO2 per passenger.
- A diesel people carrier emits 0.69 tonnes of CO2 per passenger.
- A bus emits 0.95 tonnes of CO2 per passenger.
- A saloon petrol car emits 1.07 tonnes of CO2 per passenger.
- A petrol 4×4 car emits 1.73 tonnes of CO2 per passenger.
Learn more about commute safety.