Key findings

1.    Our commutes are changing who we are

Commuting to and from work creates subtle but significant transformations in people over time: transformations to the way people act towards others; what they desire from their work and home life; their tolerances levels and what they can cope with; and their habits of thinking and feeling. Previous research has emphasised the relative stability of people’s commutes, usually understood from the perspective of the mode of transport that they use. However, this overlooks the significant changes that commuting creates for people that can have powerful effects over time. These can sometimes build to ‘tipping points’ where people change their route or mode of travel, or even move house. Although they cannot necessarily be ‘seen’ or ‘measured’, these subtle transformations are important because they affect how stress is interpreted and managed by people.

2.    Our commutes are changing our relationship to cities

Commuting changes people’s relationship with the city in powerful ways. Over time, commuting is changing the way people feel about their city and their connections to communities. There are some practical implications here in terms of how the commute is changing how and where people access services, and do everyday activities such as shopping. It can also change how and where people want to spend their leisure time. For instance, for many, travelling for long durations during the week makes the very idea of travelling any distance at weekends unappealing. In many cases, commuting is changing people’s aspirations in terms of where they want to live and work.

3.    Our commutes are intimately connected to the rest of our everyday lives

The true significance of the commute can only be understood in the context of how it relates to the other activities that make up people’s everyday lives. Many policy approaches have treated the commute as a freestanding and relatively self-contained activity. But commuter journeys are a time where social life with family and friends, learning, thinking, planning and working all take place. Work and home life seep into the commute in many ways. Similarly, the commute can also seep into our work and home life. Experiences during the journey can change what we are capable of doing at work and home.

4.    Our commuting stress is being caused by diverse factors

The stress that people experience as a result of commuting is felt in different ways. Sometimes, the experience of stress is created when the commute isn’t going to plan, by frustrating encounters that happen during the journeys themselves, or even by the construction of new transport infrastructures. At other times, the experience of stress is more about work and home life pressures that are felt particularly acutely during the journey, because this is often a time where people have the space to reflect on their lives. Stress can also be an experience of the ‘opportunity costs’, when our ‘commuting lives’ are preventing us from undertaking things that we might rather be doing. And it would appear that stress is experienced differently by novice and skilled commuters.

5.    There are multiple ways of alleviating commuting stress

Traditional infrastructural solutions to commuting problems, such as road building and increasing public transport provision, are only a part of the answer. Many people and organisations have responsibility for alleviating commuting stress, including transport providers, advocacy groups, workplaces, households, families and friends. At the same time, commuters themselves show considerable initiative in response to their commuting stresses. People are experimenting with new ways of working, new ways of relating to their futures, new ways of finding relief, and new ways of relating. These knowledges are useful for a range of stakeholders who play a role in improving city life. The findings of this project will be used to engage key industry stakeholders, policymakers and politicians on current issues of urban transportation.