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Science: Your Long Commute is Making You Sick — and Poor

Studies show the hidden costs of a long commute to work.

By Melinda Carstensen

The average American commutes 25 minutes each way to work, but few Americans know just how much that time is worth.

On top of fuel, driving long distances frequently can have a negative impact on our automobiles’ health — and our own, Reuters contributor Chris Taylor argues in a recent column.

About 10.8 million Americans travel an hour each way to work, and 600,000 more have a one-way commute of at least 90 minutes and 50 miles, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

The District of Columbia region has it the worst, with the average commuter being stuck in traffic for 67 hours a year, followed by the areas of Los Angeles (61), San Francisco (61) and New York City (59). The average Boston area commuter sat in traffic for 53 hours, the Atlanta commuter for 51 hours, and the Chicago area commuter for 51 hours.

The number of Americans who bike to work has increased over the past decade (primarily in the Northeast), but, Taylor writes, “in a difficult economic era, not everyone has the luxury of finding gainful employment within a short walk or bike ride from their home.”

The Web abounds with commute cost calculators, but you can manually estimate annual fuel costs by taking your total commute time per day, multiplying that by the cost of gas per mile, and multiplying that by your number of workdays per year.

In fuel alone, a 40-mile daily commute at 50 cents a mile will put you out $50,000 over 10 years if you work 2,500 days total, anonymous personal finance blogger Mr. Money Mustache explained to Reuters.

A report by the Texas A&M Transportation Institute estimates that traffic congestion cost the average American commuter $818 in 2011.

But perhaps the biggest toll a long commute can take is on the human body.

Studies link longer commute times with a greater risk of diabetes, heart disease, depression, stroke and other ailments.

Americans are paying big time for suburban sprawl, writes New York Times columnist Jane E. Brody, “losing hours a day that would be better spent exercising, socializing with family and friends, preparing home-cooked meals or simply getting enough sleep.”

Brody cites “The End of the Suburbs” by Leigh Gallagher, who writes that the greater the distance among where people live, work, shop and socialize, the less exercise that people tend to get.

The good news is the cost of owning and operating a sedan in the U.S. has actually decreased, and working at home is on the rise.

Cities across the country are also starting to make their roads more bike-friendly.

Among those with bike sharing programs are the Patch areas of Anaheim, Calif., and Long Beach, N.Y. Several other regions, including Hoboken, N.J., and Evanston, Ill., have protected bike lanes. Cities such as Minneapolis-St. Paul and New York City have both.

How long is your commute to work? Do you think it’s taking a toll on your bank account and your physical health? And have you considered an alternate form of transportation such as biking?

George Weis June 10, 2014 at 11:36 AM
Perhaps the 3 trillion dollars we spent on G W Bush's Iraq War (Exactly how did that benefit USA?) could have been better invested in our infrastructure including mass transit systems and bicycle paths (which would have reduced dependance on Middle East and risks of associated terrorism).
Brad Schaeffer June 10, 2014 at 10:09 PM
George: That's 3/4 the cost of LBJ's "War On Poverty" (which I have a suspicion you fully support--call it a hunch). Thank God that problem has been solved right? Poverty has gone the way of polio...well, then again. If you want to talk about pouring money into the Potomac and watching it wash off into the Atlantic Ocean, I think the Democratic Party has contributed an awful lot to that practice over the years. (If you must drag partisan politics and that psychological disorder known as "George-Bush-Caused-Everything -Badism" into this rather non-partisan issue).
Isis June 11, 2014 at 08:38 AM
Jeez no joke.
Cheryl Miller June 12, 2014 at 12:09 PM
The commute is not causing poor health as the article suggests. It is the lack of exercise and unhealthy eating habits. Long commutes might make it more difficult to find time for these things, but the consequences would be the same if you worked from home and rarely got out of bed to exercise and always ordered pizza delivery.
TP Jr June 12, 2014 at 04:12 PM
WA DC may have the longest commute, but the worst drivers by far, are in the Twin Cities. This makes an already long commute, longer, more stressful, and just plain infuriating. Can't fix stupidity in the land of 10,000_______(you fill in the blank).

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