Longer commutes are making workers feel lonelier than ever

Commuting sucks and new research proves it. A study conducted by the University of the West of England, “Commuting and Wellbeing,” suggests that long commutes are having a negative impact on workers’ mental health and job satisfaction.

The study, which was sponsored by the UK’s Economic and Social Research Council, was conducted between February 2016 and August 2017. The researchers used data taken from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (UKHLS), which has been surveying adults from 40,000 households across the UK since 2009. For “Commuting and Wellbeing,” researchers focused on six years of data, from 2009/10 to 2015/16.

According to the project summary, the researchers were principally interested in the change, over the selected timeframe, of workers’ commuting behaviors and how it may have impacted their general wellbeing. Wellbeing is defined as “the extent to which people’s lives are going well and is most often measured subjectively.”

Business Insider reports that in England, the average commute time has raised over the past 20 years, from 48 to 60 minutes. One in seven UK commuters will spend a minimum of two hours daily commuting to work. In the US, commute times are slightly shorter, averaging at around 50 minutes round-trip.

It isn’t that surprising then that researchers found, in the UK at least, that each additional minute of commuting time reduces not just leisure time, but job satisfaction as well. Those added minutes add strain and stress, negatively impacting workers’ mental health.

Note though that not all commuters are created equal, according to the study at least. Those who opt to bike or walk to work report higher job satisfaction than their bus and train riding peers.

Dr. Kiron Chatterjee, the principal investigator for the study and an associate professor of travel behavior, concluded that just adding 20 minutes to a worker’s commute can result in the same negative impact on job satisfaction as receiving a 19 percent pay cut.

Even though spending extra time on the train is not appealing to anyone, Chatterjee points out that many will still opt to do so if it means that a higher paycheck is the result. A higher-paying job, even with a longer commute, still seems to improve job satisfaction.

“This raises interesting questions over whether the additional income associated with longer commutes fully compensates for the negative aspects of the journey to work,” Chatterjee remarked via Business Insider.

What’s even worse than the strain commuting puts on our mental health? Well, according to Lydia Smith with Quartz Media, it’s also making us lonelier than ever.

“Millennials,” Smith writes, “are often maligned as entitled, work-shy snowflakes unwilling to go the extra mile for their professions.” However, this is probably not all that true; in fact, research points to the opposite.

Smith points out that a lethal combination of stagnant wages and rising house costs, which is the trend in not just the UK but elsewhere as well, are pushing young people further away from their jobs. Smith herself went through a period where she was traveling nearly 200-miles each week to get to work. The UK’s Trades Union Congress also believes that a “lack of investment in roads and railways” has also added to workers travel times.

This problem of getting priced out of locations close to work and increased commuting times is felt most acutely by a younger demographic, those aged from 20 to 35. Young Brits within this age range often spend about a third of their post-tax income on rent.

Young Brits and young Americans alike are suffering, in part, due to the aftermath of the 2008 Great Recession. According to a 2016 Resolution Foundation report conducted in the UK, young Brits are the first generation to earn less than their parents. Their American peers fare no better. A 2015 US Census unraveled that young Americans are earning $2,000 less on average than their parents did at the same age.

As a result, a younger generation is facing higher costs of living, lower wages (which leads to less disposable income) and longer commutes. The Netflix-and-chill generation is going out to socialize less and spending more times on social media to fill the void.

The downside is that spending more time on social media actually makes people feel lonelier. In fact, a University of Pittsburgh study discovered that young people between the ages of 19 and 32 who spend more than two hours a day on social media are actually twice as likely to feel socially isolated, or lonely. Even Robert Putnam, a political scientist at Harvard, suggests that a long commute is one of the most substantial predictors of loneliness.

Considering that more and more people are being subjected to longer commutes to work, it might be about time that employers start offering telecommute positions or work-from-home scenarios as the new norm.

If a more flexible work schedule isn’t the option for you, try to make the most of your commute by meditating, listening to a podcast or reading a book.  

Featured image via Pixabay

Regional Planning Association proposes changes to public transit in New York

As New York commuters suffer through the complications, repairs and shutdowns at Penn Station this summer, the Regional Planning Association (RPA), a think tank dedicated to improving various aspects of life in the tri-state area, has proposed two projects to revitalize the region’s public transportation system, TheRealDeal reports. The plans would cost a combined $10 billion.

The RPA’s first plan suggests a new bus station in the basement of the Jacob K. Javits center. The blueprint includes pedestrian walkways from the new station to the No. 7 subway station in Hudson Yards. The organization estimates the cost at $3 billion.

According to the RPA, per TheRealDeal, the new station would increase capacity and alleviate the strain on the Port Authority bus terminal on West 42nd Street, so that it could be refurbished rather than replaced or rebuilt.

New York-based architecture firm Perkins Eastman first raised the notion of a basement terminal at the Javits Center last year. Port Authority nixed the plan but has since installed a new executive director, Rick Cotton.

“With the change of regime at the Port and the pushback over a bigger [42nd Street] bus terminal, there is also a sense that there has been a reset on the bus terminal that could welcome new ideas like this,” Scott Rechler, chairman of the RPA and the former vice-chairman of the Port Authority, told Crain’s. 

The second proposal calls for the construction of two new tunnels that would run under the East River from Penn Station to Sunnyside Yards in Queens. Two tunnels are already in the works under the Hudson River as part of the $25 billion Gateway project.The RPA has dubbed its proposed tunnels “Gateway East.”

Were Gateway East implemented, Penn Station would become a “through station rather than a terminus for trains,” per Crain’s, thereby increasing train traffic by 138%, the RPA predicts. The organization estimates a cost in the neighborhood of $7 billion. The plan would require the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) and New Jersey Transit to expand their areas of service, even as the transport organizations struggle to fulfill their current obligations, Crain’s points out.

The public transportation proposals come as part of the RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan, a broad effort to improve economic productivity, environmental sustainability, and overall quality of life across the tri-state area. Part of the effort involves increasing low-income residents’ access to opportunities for education and employment. The improvements to the public transit system would catalyze that endeavor.

The organization holds that partisan politics stunt large-scale progress. “With more than 3,000 governmental entities in our region,” the RPA says in an overview of the plan, “policy making is fragmented.”

“…while other cities around the world are embracing innovation,” the report adds, “the New York metropolitan region has struggled to deliver major infrastructure projects in a timely and efficient manner. Public authorities have been hobbled by political disputes, eroding the public’s trust.”

So, the Fourth Plan strives to streamline long-term policy making by advocating cooperation. Advancement in areas like public transport, the RPA contends, would be more efficient if entities collaborated across political, geographic, and commercial divides.

The larger aim of the report on public transportation, then, is to “get public agencies to start planning together, rather than in fragmented efforts—buses here, trains over there,” RPA president Tom Wright says, per Crain’s.

Over the course of its almost century-long history, the RPA has issued three reports similar to the Fourth Regional Plan: one in 1929, one in 1960, and one in 1997. The plans have laid the groundwork for such things as the creation of the MTA, the creation of the Governor’s Island Park, and the preservation of wilderness areas.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

New York Governor Signs Executive Order, Allocates $1 Billion for Renovation of Public Transportation

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo will allocate an additional $1 billion toward the revitalization of public transit throughout the state, and ease environmental regulations and other red tape, which have hitherto impeded the effort.

Cuomo’s actions come in response to the mounting danger and inefficiency of New York’s public transportation. Only 63% of MTA subways have arrived on time in 2017. That figure represents a considerable drop since 2011 when 85% of subways arrived punctually.

The greater concern is the risk of derailment and other hazardous malfunctions; that risk is exacerbated by the age and disrepair of the subway infrastructure. Earlier this week, 34 people were injured when a train stopped too abruptly, causing two of its cars to derail.

According to Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Joe Lhota and interim executive director Ronnie Hakim,  “an improperly secured piece of replacement rail that was stored on the tracks” created the issue. Apparently, storing repair materials between tracks is a common practice on railroads across the country.

Allegedly, the mishap was caused entirely by human error and is in no way the result of faulty infrastructure.

However, the incident was sufficient to spur Governor Cuomo to take action to improve the transit system. In addition to supplementing the state’s public transport repair budget, Cuomo issued an executive order proclaiming a state of emergency for the MTA.

“We know the system is decaying, and we know it’s happening rapidly,” Cuomo said.

Under the executive order, the MTA is no longer required to submit environmental impact reports. The order also lifts a number of regulations which hindered the MTA’s ability to promptly hire contractors.

Suspension of such regulations is common practice in states of emergency like winter storms, said Cuomo’s legal counsel.

The order will expire in 30 days but can be continuously renewed as long as the Governor deems the public transit system to be in crisis. Considering the extent of the disrepair that plagues the subways in New York City, the state of emergency could persist for months, or years.

The MTA’s current budget of $32.5 billion, half of which is spent in New York City, is used to repair outdated infrastructure, update computer integration, and replace or restore subway cars.  The additional $1 billion accounts for a mere 3% increase in the MTA’s budget. Some wonder whether such a meager increase will have any substantial effect.

John Raskin, director of an advocacy group that represents users of New York’s public transportation,  urges the governor to “produce a credible plan to fix the subway, and…put together the billions of dollars we will need to make it happen.”

Notice the “s” on the end of “billions.”

Because the MTA’s budget is used to serve the entire state of New York, only half of the $1 billion sum will actually be spent in New York City.

The removal of the red tape that slows repair progress may be more impactful than the order’s financial aspect. At the same time, permitting the MTA to proceed without considering environmental consequences could bear unforeseen consequences in the future.

But as integral as public transportation is to the lifestyle of the average New Yorker, most locals in the city will likely be more than willing to overlook those “unforeseen consequences” if Cuomo’s executive order allows riders to board clean and orderly subways that run reliably and safely.

“The Governor has stopped ignoring the problem, which is a vital first step,” Raskin said.

Indeed. There may be some bumps, breakdowns, and bottlenecks along the way, but at least the train toward a better New York public transport experience has left the station.

MTA’s Financial Plan for 2017 Includes a Fare Hike

More people are relying on public transportation and MTA has to cater to the increasing number of riders. With MTA’s inconsistent and unreliable service, MTA is planning to increase fare prices to provide better service to consumers.

Subway and bus services have been plagued with delays and incompetent service this past year despite an increase of riders this past year.

MTA has almost definite plans of increasing the base price of fare from $2.75 to $3. MTA is going for a projected goal of at least $300 million annually. Prices for other metro cards such as 7-day and 30-day may also increase.

MTA officials state that they would not raise prices unless they see a mutual pain for everyone by doing so. If financial forecasts in November do well, then MTA will rethink about the price hike.

A 4% fare increase for MTA will earn $308 million annually until 2020. In addition, if MTA follows its trend of metro card fare spikes, MTA will earn another $584 million in two years time.

In 2015, MTA earned $7.7 billion in toll and fare earnings. According to budget reports, this amount only makes up for half of the cost that MTA needs to run its transportation systems.

In February, MTA earnings did not reach its projected goal and instead missed its benchmark by $182 million.

Although this fare increase will help MTA provide better service for its consumers, some consumers are still discontent with the fare increase back in 2015. Increasing the fare by a quarter can hugely impact low-income workers. Other riders are willing to pay a little extra if MTA promises better service and punctual trains.

Mayor Bill De Blasio is trying to find an alternative to the fare hike and help low-income workers. He wants to see if there is a way to earn enough money for the MTA without digging a whole in the pockets of the poor.