A set of research methods was developed that could capture the richness and diversity of commuting to understand how the journey to and from work shapes what it is to be a Sydneysider today.
Qualitative methods were chosen because they are well suited to capturing people’s desires, expectations, aspirations, sensitivities and tolerances – put simply, those less tangible things that make us who we are and attach us to the places and other lives that shape us.
1. Commuter interviews
During 2013 in-depth interviews were conducted with 53 commuters for whom commuting significantly impacts on their life. Participants were recruited through advertisements placed in the Sydney Morning Herald and the free mX commuter newspaper calling for stressed commuters. Over 100 responses were received. Quota sampling of these responses ensured the participant group included a diversity of gender, ethnicity, usual mode of transport, family situation, and location of work and home. These interviews focused on capturing the impacts of commuting on people’s lives and how people were changing over time.
2. Stakeholder interviews
During 2014 in-depth interviews were conducted with 26 key stakeholders involved in Sydney’s commuting spaces in a professional capacity. These included journalists, transport advocates, policymakers, politicians, radio presenters, traffic reporters, transport staff, human resources staff, advertising executives, writers and historians. These participants were actively recruited to encompass a wide range of professional perspectives on commuting in the city. The interviews examined how the expertise of these people can improve our understanding of the effects of commuting stress in Sydney.
3. Participant observation
In addition to interviews, participant observation was undertaken with commuters in and around Sydney. This involved two intensive ‘week in the life’ experiments. The first of these, in 2012, was a commute from Castle Hill in Sydney’s north-west to the central business district by different modes of transport. This was selected because the north-west is currently one of the most transport-poor areas of the city. The second, in 2013, was a ‘long distance’ commute from Wollongong to Sydney by train. This was selected because it is one of Australia’s largest long distance commuter routes. Photographic fieldwork of a major transport hub in Sydney was conducted in 2013. This fieldwork provided first-hand experience of some of the key locations and spaces that participants talked about during the commuter interviews.