The dynamics of commuting over the life course: Swiss experiences

Document Type

Journal Article

Publication Date


Subject Area

place - europe, planning - surveys, ridership - behaviour, ridership - commuting, ridership - mode choice


Dynamics, Commuting behavior, Life course approach, Events, Intervals between events, Event history modeling


Daily travel behavior, and especially commuting behavior, is strongly determined by the location of the places of residence, education and employment. After changes in these spatial choices, people inevitably show a travel behavior that is different from the travel behavior before these relocations occurred. Therefore, spatial alterations provide interesting starting points for policies and other interventions aiming at travel behavior change, as habits and routines are broken or at least weakened, and individuals reconsider their behavior and consciously reflect their decisions.

The life-oriented approach is utilized in order to examine the interrelationships of various life choices with respect to the development of the commuting behavior over time and over people’s life courses. These analyses require corresponding longitudinal data, which was collected in the Zurich region, Switzerland, in a retrospective survey covering the 20 year period from 1985 to 2004.

The results show that the different dimensions of the life course are highly interdependent. The changes in residence, education and employment are to a great extent related to one another, occurring simultaneously rather than successively. A strong connection is also observed between the ownership of mobility tools and their usage for commuting. This applies likewise to changes in occupation (encompassing both education and employment) and the most frequently used mode of transport for the commuting trips. Following a residential relocation, the mean distances to the places of occupation decline, indicating that moving is used as a mean to reduce commuting. In contrast, changes in education and employment lead to considerably longer commuting distances. Interestingly, persons altering their places of residence and occupation simultaneously have even lengthier commutes. The ownership of both cars and public transport tickets rises after all changes. Concurrent with this increase in mobility tool availability, the corresponding usage for commuting also expands overall. Private and public transport are in general more frequently used, while cycling and walking decline.


Permission to publish the abstract has been given by Elsevier, copyright remains with them.


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