Commuting 'makes workers miserable'

Herald Series: Commuting to work lowers people's life satisfaction levels, a new study has found Commuting to work lowers people's life satisfaction levels, a new study has found

Commuter misery is most profound in people who have to travel for an hour to an hour and a half, a new report suggests.

Those who have to travel to get to work have lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that their daily activities are worthwhile, are less happy and have higher anxiety than non-commuters, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

And the worst length of time to travel is between 61 and 90 minutes, according to the latest ONS report on commuting and personal well-being.

The ONS report, complied from the Annual Population Survey, gathered data concerning 60,000 British people, 91.5% of whom were commuters.

People were asked how satisfied they were with their lives, the extent to which they felt their activities were worthwhile, how happy they felt the day before surveyed and how anxious they felt the previous day, as well as aspects of their daily commutes.

Researchers found that commuters had small, but statistically significant lower scores on all measures.

"The effects of commuting on personal well-being were greatest for anxiety and happiness, suggesting that commuting affects day to day emotions more than overall evaluations of satisfaction with life or the sense that daily activities are worthwhile," the report states.

For example, on a scale of 0 to 10, non-commuters rated their life satisfaction 0.14 points higher than those who travel to work. They also rated their happiness 0.19 points higher than commuters.

The longer the commute, the more profound the effects, the report suggests.

When analysing the results with the length of time travelled, researchers found that each of the personal well-being measures decreased with each successive minute of travel, except for levels of anxiety which increased with each minute .

The authors found the worst effects of commuting were witnessed in those whose journeys last between 61 and 90 minutes. However, when commuting time reaches three hours or more the negative effects on personal well-being "disappear", they said.

They also found that people who take the bus have lower levels of life satisfaction and are more likely to think their activities are not worthwhile.

Meanwhile, those who take the train to work have higher anxiety levels than people who travel in a private vehicle.

The authors also found that walking or cycling may not have the stress-relieving activities that would be expected with additional exercise.

Cyclists who travel for 16 to 30 minutes each way had lower happiness levels and higher anxiety than those who travel between one and 15 minutes to work via any mode of transport.

And people who walk for the same amount of time had lower life satisfaction, a lower sense that daily activities are worthwhile and lower happiness levels.

" The findings suggest that commuting is negatively related to personal well-being and that in general (for journeys of up to three hours) longer commutes are worse for personal well-being than shorter commutes," the report states.

" Given the loss of personal well-being generally associated with commuting, the results suggest that other factors such as higher income or better housing may not fully compensate the individual commuter for the negative effects associated with travelling to work and that people may be making sub-optimal choices.

"T he results suggest that although physical well-being may be enhanced by cycling and walking, getting exercise in this way on the daily commute may not necessarily have the stress-relieving qualities we would expect."

AA president Edmund King said: "This research seems to back up the notion that many commuters hate the rat race to work no matter what the mode.

"It also seems to suggest that those cocooned in their own personal space in the comfort of the car are less inclined to be miserable despite congestion, fuel costs and potholes.

"Perhaps the joys of 'letting the train take the strain' are exaggerated when many rail commuters are boxed up like sardines or the wrong type of leaves block the track.

"Our advice to all commuters is to get in the right frame of mind before you travel so that road or rail rage don't add to your problems."

RAC head of external affairs Pete Williams said: "There are stresses associated with all forms of commuting, but driving gives commuters a level of control and flexibility that they perhaps don't have with rail, what with set departure times, frequent delays and the frustration of standing room only.

"Regular car commuters tend to enjoy the freedom to choose alternative routes when they face delays through congestion, roadworks or weather conditions, and they always can count on getting a seat, all without the fear of having to talk to someone else."

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