Living On-the-Go

Every morning and evening, they crowd regional trains and roads. With more than two hours a day “spend traveling to and from work”, the number of long-distance commuters is increasing. Back to a mobile lifestyle. 


City Bus, city of Winterthur, Switzerland © BusPhotoWinterthur.

Long-distance commuters leave home early and often get home late following work and travel. Between trains, careers and family, their everyday lives run on a tight schedule. Therefore, travel time is used for a variety of activities in order to save time elsewhere. Which is one of the reasons why long-distance commuters’ prefer public transit even if it means even more travel time than by car. It is common to see different means of transport converted into ‘offices on wheels’. Travel by train is suited to work on a laptop or reading work documents. The car allows individuals to make the phone calls they do not have time to make at the office. “My forty-five minutes commute is useful because I can read. I often work on the train. I have my laptop and use it to email or do research.” (Gaetan, France)


Passenger on the bus in Zürich Switzerland © VZO

Long-distance commuting seems to be the result of trade-offs between residential location, career and other forms of mobility such as residential relocation or weekly commuting, which  involves having a second home near one’s work place. Daily commuting is preferable to the weekly kind for personal and family-related reasons. For commuters, living together is an ideal of family life, which is why Peter (France) prefers to spend almost four hours a day in transit so that he can see his children in the evening, rather than living close to his work during the week and not seeing them grow up. In spite of long commutes to and from work, most of those surveyed preferred to come home in the evenings to see their relatives: children, spouses or aging parents. “I’m single but I’ve got to take care of my parents. So I built a house there, close to them.” (Emmanuel, Belgium) Commuting from a strategic mid-way point is a way of reconciling the problem two people having geographically distant workplaces. Commuting makes it possible for the partners to keep their respective jobs, all the while living together, while pursuing their respective careers. Long-distance commuting is preferable to moving when job security is low. Commuting also makes it possible for people to avoid losing their job due to family relocation. There are also cases where  commuting is preferable to relocation, especially when one has  a strong attachment to one’s home. Long-distance commuters have a sensitive and aesthetic attachment to where they live: “I live in a place called ‘the door to the Ardennes’… We really love it – we’re in the country, close to the woods. We leave our house and in two minutes we’re in the woods taking a walk, mountain biking or horseback riding.” (Valerie, Belgium) Such commuters are also attached to social and family networks and the various activities in which they participate near their place of residence : “Political commitment is dear to my heart, and more and more… I am finding I have a certain degree of ambition: in three years I would like to run for deputy in the cantonal elections…So that’s why I prefer to stay here.” (Paloma, Switzerland). Finally, in two of the three countries we studied, Switzerland and Belgium, attachment to residential location also had a linguistic dimension. The language barrier that divides the country is also an important factor in terms of relocation. Paradoxically, long-distance commuters (who also showed strong attachment to their place of residence) chose to be mobile on a daily basis in order to remain rooted. In a way, these persons are not seeking a mobile lifestyle. Indeed, they are seeking stability and geographical proximity to their family and social networks.


Electronic ticket

London suffers from the worst traffic congestion in the UK; its record is also among the worst in Europe. The Congestion Charge, introduced in Central London on 2003, is designed to encourage motorists to use other modes of transport and has helped London become the only major city in the world to see a shift from private car use to public transport, walking and cycling. It has cut traffic levels and provided better transport services and safer roads. The primary aim has been to cut traffic levels and congestion in London. Traffic entering the original charging zone has remained stable at 27% lower than pre-charging conditions in 2002. This means that nearly 80,000 fewer cars (a 43% reduction) enter the original charging zone each day. By law, for the first 10 years of its operation, all net revenue earned from Congestion Charging has to be invested in improving transport in London, such as bus network improvements, road safety measures and better walking and cycling facilities.

Land transport affects everyone. Besides supporting economic growth, land transport plays an important social role in providing access to amenities and opportunities for the community. To better understand this statement, we interviewed a number of people around the world, to understand what constitutes best practice in a public transport company.


A bus in the region of Zürich, Switzerland © VBG

The Swiss city of Zurich, thanks to the efficient ZVV, was placed among the top cities in international studies on the quality of living. It is exactly this standard of living that persuades a lot of people and companies to move to this region, boosting its economic growth. Erich Wenzinger, spokesman, Department of Economic Affairs, Canton of Zurich, states that “public transportation is one of the backbones that ensure the positive economic effects of city growth.” In Germany, Gisela Becker, press officer of HVV in Hamburg, adds that also in her city, “the efficient public transport system is the flagship for the City and for our metropolitan region and its economic system. It raises the attractiveness for business companies and their location at Hamburg.”   If we move to the other side of the  World, in San Francisco, we see the same: “a sustainable transit system makes it easier to do business in the city, attracts tourists and casual visitors more frequently, all with the goal of bolstering our city’s economy,” tells us Paul Rose, Media relations Manager SFMTA San Francisco. In the same way, in Asia, the Land Transport Authority (LTA) of Singapore, has understood the importance of investing in efficient public transport, so its aim is to “invest in their quality and invest in services to enhance the total journey experience of commuters and make public transport a more attractive option.”

A city with effective public transport experiences significantly less pollution and noise than one consistent individual transport. The volume of road traffic is eased too. So “a tight network of public transportation, protects the environment and raises the quality of life in a city or region” says Mr. Wenzinger. To promote a most clean city, another good choice could be providing “more effective modes of transit (bike, ped, transit, taxi, etc). This would make more people get out of their cars to use these other modes. modes. This provides a more sustainable, and a less congested, city” said Mr. Rose. Together with a policy of encouraging people to use alternative means, and to take care of the environment, some cities, such as Hong Kong, continue to innovate and test the applicability of new technologies. For example, to better manage electricity consumption, in 2009, MTR rail network, installed environmentally-friendly and energy-efficient LED lights on three trains in a trial. The LED system consumed 40% less electricity, offering improved reliability and brighter light.