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When is Commuting Desirable to the Individual?


Commuting is popularly viewed as a stressful, costly, time-wasting experience from the individual perspective, with the attendant congestion imposing major social costs as well. However, several authors have noted that commuting can also offer benefits to the individual, serving as a valued transition between the home and work realms of personal life. Using survey data collected from about 1,300 commuting workers in three San Francisco Bay Area neighborhoods, we develop empirical models for four key variables measured for commute travel, namely: Objective Mobility, Subjective Mobility, Travel Liking, and Relative Desired Mobility. Explanatory variables include measures of general travel-related attitudes, personality traits, lifestyle priorities, and sociodemographic characteristics. Both descriptive statistics and analytical models indicate that commuting is not the unmitigated burden that it is widely perceived to be. About half our sample was relatively satisfied with the amount they commute, with a small segment actually wanting to increase that amount. Both the psychological impact of commuting, and the amounts people want to commute relative to what they are doing now, are strongly influenced by their liking for commuting. An implication for policy is that some people may be more resistant than expected toward approaches intended to induce reductions in commuting (including, for example, telecommuting). New creativity may be needed to devise policies that recognize the inherent positive utility of travel, while trying to find socially beneficial ways to fulfill desires to maintain or increase travel.

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