How transport policy often gets it wrong: shorter travel times aren’t all they’re cracked up to be

12I’ve often thought I’m unusual. Not only for my fondness for paperclip facts but also for my fondness of my commute time.

I don’t really want a shorter commute. It’s my time to listen to podcasts and audio books. On occasions when I have a shorter commute I don’t end up using the saved time for some wonderful self-improvement, to finally write that sci-fi novel about a general election in which regulating time travel is the big issue, or to sit at home listening to said podcasts or audio books. Rather the extra time slips away without that much to show for it, save my lingering frustrating at not having listened to as much.

Yet the rhetoric of transport policy is all about how shorter travel times are good. So I’ve assumed that I’m just a weird outlier. After all, transport experts are fearsomely expert, and not only at the history of kerning mistakes on public transport.

But, in good (or is it bad?) news, I’ve now discovered that Transport for London has discovered that there are really quite a lot of people like me:

The research emerged from a question he was asked two and a half years ago by the head of customer strategy for the underground – do customers make use of their travel time or is it a disutility?

The company undertook desk research, quantitative, qualitative and ethnographic work, which uncovered some insights around the concept of time from a customer perspective.

According to the research, 74% of commuters perceived their journey to be worthwhile, and 69% said it was productive.

These findings runs contrary to the transport industry’s traditional preconception that journey time is a disutility, or inconvenience. But while over half of customers surveyed ( 53%) still wished they could eradicate journeys altogether, 47% said they would miss it if they did not have to travel because they feel the time is worthwhile.

Something to remember next time you’re thinking of transport policy. Speed often isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.


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