women standing under open umbrellas outdoors during nighttime
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Dr. Bridget Burdett in New Zealand sent along this link to a new article in Science Direct published in  the Journal of Transportation and Health.  Researchers included Corrine Mulley, one of the editors of “Walking~Connecting Sustainable Transport with Health”.

The study looked at the qualitative experience of over three hundred individuals who relocated to suburban areas without good transit or active transportation links to work centres. Since residential development in outlying areas often arrives before public transportation infrastructure, researchers wanted to assess the health impacts of longer and changing commutes on commuters.

Using multiple regression techniques, researchers had some surprising conclusions. Longer commutes and changing the time needed to leave for commutes was found to be directly related to lower mental health levels and the perception of a decrease in wellbeing. But researchers also found that independent car use and not using public transport was associated with “increased happiness”.

What this suggests is that the quality of the commute is important and that the link between commuting time, mental well being and perception of independence is more layered than anticipated. Dr. Burdett suggests that “reliable mass transit  and walking and cycling are needed for the win”.

The pathways between commute time, mental health and subjective wellbeing are complex and embedded in subjective experiences of the commute both past and present. This study hints at the need for good quality mass transit facilities and scheduling to ensure that there is a convenient and reliable experience for longer distance commuters. Future research will address the connection between mental health and commuting, as well as examining what elements of the public transit commute need to improve to keep commuters happier.


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  1. I’m curious about the well-being of those who have access to “excellent” public transit in the form of subways. Fast, frequent but devoid of anything remotely natural. I’m also curious about the disconnect that long commutes have on one’s relationship to the places they live and work? Do they have less interest in the health and quality of either neighbourhood because they spend less time in either place?

    Is their diminished quality of experience travelling through a dark hole equal to the complete lack of regard for the places through which they pass? Certainly they add nothing to those neighbourhoods. But those neighbourhoods add nothing to them either.

    Subways have their place, but the more a transit system relies on them the more the quality of experience is traded away for things that are only beneficial for those who live far away from what they do. The health and well-being of both the commuter and the city would benefit from finding ways to shorten commutes so the extreme of travelling in a dark, dank hole is mostly unnecessary.

    1. Studies long ago in Boston and San Francisco found that transit use dropped when buses were substituted for streetcars when upgrading was required for the latter. Market Street subway use discouraged females, and transit use went up in both Boston and San Francisco when streetcars were available in addition or replacement to subways or buses. The ride on rail is more comfortable and publicly acceptable then a bouncing bus-I stopped using the Arbutus bus in the 90’s because of the uncomfortable ride. But how often do engineers and planners consider the downside both of cost of building, running and maintenance and the experience for the rider over the so called time improvement. Not to mention that buses are required above subways to cover the uncovered blocks duplicating the transit cost-often not talked about.

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