How Can We Kill the Commute Before it Kills Us?

As the working week begins every Monday are you looking forward to the usual ‘nose to tail’ in traffic? No, me neither. The wash / rinse / repeat cycle of the commute got me thinking if there was a better alternative and I have discovered five ways we could kill the commute before it kills us.

9 Days a Year Commuting?

Firstly, how bad is the problem? Well according to the latest U.S Census data the average American spends 26 minutes commuting each way to work. That’s 52 minutes which are effectively wasted each day. What’s more depressing is that if you extrapolate that out across the year it equates to 9 whole days simply getting to and from work. At 26 minutes, that represents the longest time recorded since the study began back in 1980 when it was only 21.7 minutes per each way trip and the cheery prediction is that it’s only going to get worse.

And what if your daily shuttle is taking as long as 90 minutes each way? Well here is a sobering thought for you: if you are traveling as much as that then each year you are basically spending the entire month of January sat in your car. And unbelievably that’s the reality for over three million U.S. commuters.

Commuting is a Killer

The knock on effects of the commute are damaging to the individual, society as a whole and to the environment. The harm done to health is considerable with higher levels of cholesterol and obesity recorded in commuters which, in turn, leads to an elevated incidence of maladies such as diabetes and heart disease. Mental health issues, which can be brought on by the increased stress of a long commute, can also lead onto societal problems like divorce. In Europe alone it has been estimated that the noxious fumes belched out by the commuting traffic are directly responsible for around 400,000 deaths a year and a further 100 million sick days.

And whilst we are simultaneously harming the inhabitants of our planet and wasting its precious natural resources as we sit motionless in traffic, we are also burning our money. In 2014 the Centre for Economics and Business Research in the U.S estimated that every commuting household fritters away an average $1700 on fuel per annum. By 2030, that figure is predicted to rise to $2300.

So what is the solution? Well, as is often the case, there is no proverbial silver bullet but maybe a blend of potential fixes could be employed to cut down the commute. Here are five possible solutions which could collectively help alleviate the situation:

1. Totally Flexible Working Hours

Several months ago I wrote a LinkedIn piece about why both Netflix and Virgin have dispensed with the outmoded 9 to 5 working day and replaced it with a self-governed system which, as Sir Richard Branson puts it, relies on what “people get done rather than how much time they spend on it”. What does that mean in reality? You can work when and where you wish as long as you meet your pre-agreed KPI’s. Want a month off work? Sleep all day, work only at night? Do your business on a beach? Then go for it, just as long as you hit your targets.

2. Virtual Reality Meetings

It’s long been suggested that there is no substitute for ‘pressing the flesh’. Conference calls are hardly the same are they? But a VR meeting where you could virtually catch up with colleagues, shake their virtual hand and look them straight in the virtual eye is almost upon us. Professor Ken Perlin from New York University’s Media Research Lab has predicted that VR in business will become a (virtual?) reality and stated that “we’re going to embrace any technology that makes us feel more connected”.

3. The Boring Company

Interestingly, Elon Musk doesn’t see the solution coming from adapting the 9 to 5 at all. His answer is simply to have better transportation options and his idea is anything but ‘boring’. He wants to develop an intricate series of three-dimensional tunnels built deep underground which use what looks like a giant roller skate to move your car at high speed to its destination.

4. Personal Drones

While Musk wants to take you underground, the Ehang 184 wants you to take to the skies in your own personal flying machine. With minimal controls it is effectively autonomous and the destination would be pre-determined before take off. Sophisticated detection systems will apparently ensure that it doesn’t crash into other drones, helicopters, light aircraft, birds, trees, pylons etc. At least that’s the idea but from what I’ve seen of smaller drones that isn’t always the case.


5. Future Uber

Just last week Uber’s Director of Product Experience, Ethan Eismann, shared his vision at the PSFK conference in NYC to “make transportation as reliable as running water, everywhere, for everyone.” The long term goal for Uber is to expand their Uber Pool offering to the extent that nobody will need to own a car. Instead you pay for an autonomous car sharing service with different subscription options (e.g. you pay less for a basic service where you are picked up with other people en-route or a more expensive private option with cooler cars). The net result? Significantly reduced traffic on the roads, less need for car parking at your home or office, which all means less pollution and no traffic jams.

So what do you think? Will a mixture of these initiatives and technologies finally eradicate the insanity of the commute?

Or do you believe that there are better solutions to the problem?

Steve Blakeman
About the author: 

Steve Blakeman is the Managing Director – Global Accounts at OMD Worldwide, and is based in London and Paris.  Previously Steve lead the Asia region for OMD and prior to that he was the Global Chief Integration Strategy Officer (Asia Pacific) for IPG Mediabrands (Initiative & Universal McCann). Mr. Blakeman was recognized by Media Week in their first-ever ’30 Under 30’ people to watch in the industry, and he is a regular judge at award events such as the Cannes Media Lions, AME’s, EFFIE’s, Festival of Media, Cristal Global and Spikes. Follow Steve on Twitter and LinkedIn.