A Human Perspective on the Daily Commute: Costs, Benefits and Trade-offs

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

planning - surveys, land use - impacts, ridership - commuting, economics - benefits, literature review - literature review


United Kingdom, Travel behavior, Trade off analysis, Social impacts, Literature surveys, Literature reviews, Great Britain, Economic impacts, Cost benefit analysis, Comparison studies, Commuting, Commuters, Benefit cost analysis, Alternatives analysis


The average worker in Britain spends 139 h/year commuting—the equivalent of 19 standard working days. While the average distance and time taken for journeys to work has been steadily increasing, the average number of journeys has been decreasing at a similar rate. The aggregate picture inevitably masks an array of underlying trends. This paper offers a multi-perspective examination of commuting drawing upon the literature in transport, planning, geography, economics, psychology, sociology and medicine. It examines statistical evidence on trends in commuting travel behaviour and finds that one in 25 commuters now travels to work in excess of 100 km (both ways) and one in ten commuters now spends over 2 h/day travelling to and from work. It explores the different impacts (economic, health and social) that commuting has on the individuals who conduct it and seeks to understand better the role of commuting for individuals in today's society. The paper finishes its examination by reviewing the commute experience itself, including attitudes towards it and the use of time during the journey. It concludes by highlighting a dilemma facing transport planning and policy. There are social, economic and financial benefits from an improved travel experience for people with long commute journeys, yet improving the travel experience may itself contribute to the trend towards long-distance commuting.