I got some pushback on the article I wrote a month ago pointing out that, contrary to popular perception, the typical outer suburban worker doesn’t have a super-long commute (Do outer suburban workers have extra-long commutes?).
I noted then that while some workers do indeed travel more than one hour one-way to get to their job, they’re in the minority. And they’re mostly not drivers; rather, they tend to commute by train to jobs in the city centre.
Using Melbourne as the example, I observed there isn’t a lot of variation by place of residence in the duration of the journey to work:
The average one-way commute in the outer suburbs is 38 minutes; in the middle ring suburbs it’s 36 minutes; and in the inner city it’s 32 minutes.
A number of commenters, especially on Crikey’s Facebook page, refused to accept the numbers. So I’ve gathered some additional information that breaks commuting patterns down to municipal level; it relates to Melbourne but the pattern will be broadly the same in other cities.
The exhibit shows the proportion of workers in each of metropolitan Melbourne’s 31 municipalities whose journey to work (one-way) takes less than an hour. The municipalities are ranked from left to right in decreasing order of their distance from the CBD (measured in driving time, but the ranking is similar in kilometres). (1)
There’s a small positive correlation between the time spent commuting and distance of residence from the city centre. On average, those who live closer to the CBD have shorter commutes, but the relationship isn’t strong.
The really clear message however is that the great majority of Melbourne’s workers (88% of them) travel for less than an hour to get to their jobs.
Even in the most distant municipality, Mornington Peninsula, 86% of workers commute for less than an hour one-way; that’s pretty similar to the figure for the inner western municipality of Maribyrnong (88%) notwithstanding the latter is one of the closest to the CBD.
The municipality with the lowest proportion of workers with a sub one hour commute is Wyndham (although it’s substantially closer to the CBD than Mornington Peninsula). That largely reflects the relatively high proportion of workers in the area who commute by train to the CBD and the limited local work opportunities in Melbourne’s west.
But even so, almost three quarters of Wyndham workers (74%) commute for less than an hour one-way.
So let’s be clear that the typical outer suburban worker doesn’t have an extra-long commute (taking one hour as the one-way limit). And, moreover, she doesn’t spend an inordinate amount of extra time travelling to work when compared with her counterparts who live closer in.
One reason some find it hard to accept the evidence might simply be that, in absolute terms, the number who commute for more than an hour is still a large number. Moreover there will be some smaller geographies like particular suburbs where these commuters are more concentrated e.g. closer to rail stations.
I suspect another reason commenters find the numbers hard to believe is because it’s also partly a selection issue. The kind of people who read Crikey are more likely to work in the CBD or inner city and commute by public transport; as well as work with colleagues who commute from the outer suburbs. Yet as I noted last time, the CBD only has a small share of all metropolitan jobs; in Melbourne’s case about 15%.
And as I also noted last time, the key planning and infrastructure problem with commuting isn’t how long it takes; the key issues for policy-makers to address are the distances workers commute (they’ve been getting longer) and the modes they use (still mostly cars).
- I’ve taken one hour as the limit of a reasonable one-way commute because that’s the way the data comes. But there’s nothing special about an hour; what makes a commute “too long” is a complex issue – see Does commuting lower social capital?