The Best Commute is Often No Commute

In 2019, the average one-way commute in the United States hit a record of almost 28 minutes, according to the Census Bureau. Nearly 40 percent of Americans commuted a half-hour or more, one way, and almost 10 percent traveled for more than an hour one way.

For many, the pandemic-era shift to remote work proved that all the schlepping was unnecessary. They can’t unsee all the wasted time, and questioning their morality isn’t going to change that. They aren’t taking a moral stance, they’re just making a rational calculation: They can get a lot more done — in their work lives and in the rest of their lives — if they skip the commute.

Office Workers Don’t Hate the Office. They Hate the Commute.
The New York Times, May 19, 2023

As someone who worked in public transit, this was always a little-mentioned, painful truth about our product: people want to consume as little of it as possible.

Normal people (not us railfans, urban planners, et al who enjoy the transit experience for itself) generally want to minimize the amount of time they spend commuting. Whether it’s travel by car, train, bus, bike, ferry, or walking, everyone takes the fastest way they can afford and they do everything they can do make that time spent more tolerable. And as we have already seen, if they can avoid the commute altogether, they’ll do so.

You can’t understand the WFH debate without understanding the huge role that commuting plays in it. Cities don’t need to fear WFH, they need to embrace it by transforming their office districts to mixed-use communities and increasing the supply of affordable housing in the core, all of which will reduce the need to commute. Smart cities that can do this will find that the time saved commuting will be spent in other ways that benefit — and likely improve — urban life.