Commuting to Work and Not Feeling Miserable About It

Nicole Engelbert, 41, could save time most days by driving from Bronxville to her job in Manhattan as a research-team leader at Ovum, a technology-research company. But she opts for a one-hour commute by train and subway instead.

She walks to and from the station every day, taking her 2-year-old son to preschool in the morning and doing errands in the evening. She avoids chatting with other passengers, using the ride as “an in-between space” to read or think. Sketching on a note pad during a recent ride, she came up with a new idea for analyzing technology markets. “Driving could take half as much time, but I could be cursing at the driver in front of me and not getting a chance to read my book or relax,” she says.

The common denominator in this WSJ story about what makes commuting to and from work enjoyable (despite the time it takes) for people is having things to do to make the trip feel more efficient. A six-year study of nearly 30,000 British rail passengers found that 37 percent fewer passengers felt like their time was being wasted during their commute in 2010 compared with 2004, and researchers hypothesize that mobile devices that have allowed them to do things like check email, or listen to podcasts or music have helped commuters feel like they’re being more productive.

When I owned a car and sat in traffic in Los Angeles, I despised commuting to work every day (despite being able to listen to KCRW). Being able to take public transportation and having a device that allows me to check my email, read the newspaper and listen to recorded interviews have made my commute so much more enjoyable.

Photo: Kenny Louie


24 Comments / Post A Comment

BornSecular (#2,245)

I can’t justify doubling my commute time by taking the bus here in KC. I also can’t read in the car or I get sick, so I wouldn’t really be able to multitask, and I’d have to get up so much earlier, I just can’t see any benefit for me.

Christy (#3,892)

I’m always interested by people who choose longer commutes for themselves. I went from having a 20-minute walk to work to a 45-minute bus-and-Metro commute to work, and I actually like it. It’s always nice to see that I’m not alone.

Even better: my 25-minute bike ride to/from work instead of a 45-minute walk-and-train combo. I’ve never driven in my life so I can’t compare those, but biking clears my mind and gets in exercise that I otherwise don’t have time for. (Not that I’ve been biking since I fell in traffic a few months ago, but I wish I were.)

BillfoldMonkey (#1,754)

@wallsdonotfall Ditto. Biking adds about 20 minutes to my commute compared to the bus, and about an hour compared to driving, but that time in itself is so much less valuable to me than the exercise and decompression of biking. Best lifestyle decision ever.

PS sorry about the traffic fall! That sounds bad and scary :(

womb bat (#3,498)

@BillfoldMonkey Riding my bike takes the same amount of time as taking the bus (sometimes less, depending on traffic) and I love it SO MUCH more than sitting on the bus that I’m dreading the switch once the weather gets too gross out. I was trying to figure out this morning if spending $150+ on cold / wet weather gear is worth it. Even if I wimp out a couple days a week and take the bus, I’m still saving $60 a month.

@BillfoldMonkey Thanks. I was fine, but it still makes me shaky to think about that intersection. They’ve started doing construction that blocks off the sidewalk there now, so it’s even more dangerous, and I can’t find a route that avoids it.

Biking! Woo! I’ve never biked in winter, and I don’t think my tiny Italian racing tires can take it. But it sounds fun, apart from slush.

@wallsdonotfall It is totally worth the investment! And you might be surprised how well clothing you currently own may work; other than rainpants I’m able to get by with layering stuff I already owned. (In upstate NY, where we have real winters.)

Smallison (#155)

I haaaaate commuting, because I drive. Even if I’m listening to podcasts, it still makes me nuts. Unfortunately, there isn’t really a public transportation option for me (I live in Metro Detroit), so I’m stuck driving. I would gladly take a (slightly) longer commute if it meant I didn’t have to drive.

I just switched from a 20-minute highway car commute to a 40-ish minute metro commute, and I love it! I sort-of miss listening to the radio on the way in and having more flexibility in running errands on the way home, but I like being able to read the paper in the morning and either textbooks or trashy novels on my Kindle on the way home. Or just zoning out…it’s much safer to do that on a train than in a car!

I do think part of my enjoyment is that I don’t have to transfer. Right now my spouse and I carpool to the station on the way to his office. If I had to do a bus transfer or switch train lines each way I would probably be much less happy.

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

@bowtiesarecool I was never so well read and up to date on current events as when I had a 25 minute (one bus) commute. Now I walk 17 minutes, and I like it – errands on the way home almost every day! But my life is busier now and non-interrupted reading time more previous.

Ooh, also – I can go to happy hours again! I didn’t go to a single happy hour the three years I drove to work, because how would I get home?

ragazza (#4,025)

I so wish I could take public transportation to my office, but there are no options that wouldn’t double my already one-hour drive each way. And I’m not up for biking 40 miles/4 hours a day every day in dangerous traffic. I get to work from home one day a week at least. And I don’t drive on the weekends at all if I can help it.

Socksberg (#4,928)

I don’t drive, and after I got my current position, moved into a rental right on the train line that stops beneath my office. I have a 15-20 minute train commute, with one minutes walk to the train on either end. I’m thrilled with it, but it makes it hard to argue that I should be able to work from home because I don’t have the commuting time = loss of productivity hours argument to make.

In the past though, I’ve had 1.5 hour long commutes that required two trams and a bus, each way, and it was awful.

EM (#1,012)

My commute is about half an hour- 20 minutes on the bus and 10 minutes of walking to and from the bus stops. I listen to podcasts, read library books, catch up on the New Yorker subscription on my iPhone, and I look forward to having that time. My goal is to never have a driving commute.

sariberry (#4,420)

It’s true that KCRW makes everything better.

Trilby (#191)

You often see statistics that NYers have longer commutes than anyone, but that doesn’t really tell the story because we are not stuck in a car cursing the driver in front of us! (Unless we are.) You can read, write, play games, put on your make-up (please, ladies, stop this!), and look at all the weird people.

amelioration (#5,002)

I have about a 45-minute (each way) subway commute, and I actually totally love it. It’s time out of my day where I can’t be “go-go-go”…I get a lot of reading done (novels, not work reading) and just started learning Italian with an iPhone app. It’s a nice slow start to my day and a good way to “cool down” after work is over.

swirrlygrrl (#2,398)

@amelioration Oooh, I like the idea of this app – share?

sony_b (#225)

@swirrlygrrl I don’t know what they are using, but I like Duolingo.

pinches (#3,520)

I have an hour commute from Queens to Manhattan for work, and I try to maximize the time by napping, reading, or meditating. Also, I’m pretty use to this since I’ve been commuting this way for 10 years, ever since I had to take the subway to HS.

may june july (#2,862)

I commute between 2 and 5 hours a day (by car, from a rural city to another rural city. I wish there were productive or relaxing things iI could do during the drive. I usually listen to NPR to learn things and feel better about wasting so much time, but the news has just been making me angrier lately. Any suggestions on how to ask bosses for drive time?

EmilyAnomaly (#4,238)

I have a commute that takes between 70-90 minutes each day (one transfer each way, bus to lightrail in the morning and lightrail to bus in the evening). I used to have a car but traffic stresses me out and people seem to be getting more and more irresponsible when driving (it is shocking how many people drive with their smart phone in hand). Having to transfer is not ideal, especially since the bus runs late in the evenings, but not having to drive makes me so much calmer. I crochet or read or listen to music during my commute. If i’ve had a bad day at work, it doesn’t transfer over to road rage since I can decompress a bit on the train. My transportation costs are much cheaper too now that I don’t drive. I still dream of a shorter commute like a 20 min walk to work.

ceereelyo (#3,552)

I don’t have any public transportation options since I work in a suburb and commute from a suburb, but I actually have gotten accustomed to my commute – 50 minutes but usually an hour each direction. I think partly because of the podcasts/NPR I listen to and even though I’m driving, I can kind of ‘unwind’ to an extent – at the end of a hard day, I blast music and kind of just go through my day what needs to be done for the next day and so when I get home I’ve done enough thinking about work. I also counter my commute by heading to work extra early and using the gym and getting ready there (on some days, though I do enjoy sleeping in). The scenery is very nice too – lots of trees!

My previous job had me on a different highway – a toll road that went through a lot of urban areas leading to constant traffic, narrow roads, lower speed limit, leading all to a job I was super psyched about for maybe 2 years before it became way crappy. I could possibly in the future commute into NYC for work, but I think it would actually cause me more anxiety than not, there’s a certain amount of control you have of when you get to leave when you drive yourself.

Cup of T (#2,533)

Timely! I just started doing a one hourish door-to-door commute on public transit [CTA+bus] and while I thought it would be the bane of my existence it’s been pretty good! Today I drew on a podcast I had listened to that morning in a class I taught in the afternoon. Talk to me again when the weather gets bad, but for now it’s pretty OK!

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