Corby's rant: Why commuting is killing you

Why commuting is killing you

Sure, commuting gives you the screaming turds, but did you know it's actually killing you? And, worse still, it's making your life a misery before it knocks you off.

Recent German research found that people who commute to work by road - regardless of whether they drive themselves or mindlessly sit on a bus - are two to three times more likely to die of a heart attack.

Stress, noise and air pollution were identified as the major contributing factors, but the research didn't mention the fact that truly awful traffic jams can cause you to swear and make hateful faces at other motorists - particularly the stupid ones - which can increase their risk of coronary failure.

I recently read a disturbing study into Commuting in Australia, with the cleverly considered title "Off to Work", by two academics - Michael Flood and Claire Barbato. As a read, it was about as much fun as sitting on Parramatta Road in Sydney at 5:45pm, but it was filled with some truly disturbing facts.

The report found that more than 10 percent of parents spend more time commuting each working week - 10 to 15 hours - than they do with their children.

No wonder they all grow up to go out and become king-hitting cowards these days.

The clever academics also calculated that if we were all to be paid for the time it takes to travel to and from work at the same rate we get when we're there, we'd receive, on average, an extra $84 a week, or $4015 a year.

That adds up to a cost of $454 million a week, or $21 billion a year. That is the economic cost of commuting in Australia.

Of course, it turns out that we have next to nothing to complain about, compared to the rest of the world.

Some angry geeks at IBM, who'd obviously been stuck in traffic on the way in one morning, came up with something called the Commuter Pain Index. After interviewing motorists from around the world about factors that contribute to the economic and emotional toll of commuting, they ranked cities using the index, with Beijing and Mexico City coming out on top, at a highly stressed 99 each.

Sydney scored just 35, Melbourne 32 and Perth just 27.

A hefty 31 percent of respondents said that traffic in their city had been so bad in the past year that they simply turned around and went home. In Beijing, that figure rose to 69 percent. I can believe it.

I visited there for a motor show last year and our bus driver eventually just gave up on the traffic, put his feet up on the steering wheel and started to read a book. Our guide advised us that we would have to get off and walk, or more like swim through the thick fog of air pollution that coats the city's streets.

"Shithole" is too kind a word for Beijing, and I can't print the words that would describe its traffic.

The average commute to work in China's Olympic city is 52 minutes, while Sydney's is "just" 35, and Melbourne 32. We might never catch up to them, but our times will almost certainly get worse, and our collective blood pressure higher, because governments - state governments in particular - do so little to improve the state of chaos and debacle that is the road networks in our cities. Even Brisbane has appalling rush hours these days, and we all know Queenslanders are on holiday most of the time.

What we need is proper investment in infrastructure. Build roads, don't just talk about building them, as the NSW state government does, year after year.

More importantly, though, we need public transport that works, and rail networks that actually cover most of a city, rather than just selected corridors, leaving the rest of our residents to struggle to work on expensively tolled, absurdly clogged motorways.

You might think that this is utopian thinking, but the fact is it is possible. The Commuter Pain Index in New York City is just 19, because it has a public transport system that works, 24/7, seven days a week.

And there's not a single Japanese city in the top 10, because, as anyone who's visited there will tell you, their train system is so good you'd almost consider not owning a car if you lived there.

So it's time we sorted our congestion problems out. Our cities are like a person with a serious chest cold whose reaction is to just sit outside in the snow, naked, rather than take action, or reach for the medicine, or even a bottle of scotch.

I, for one, have had enough of the impotent rage that commuting causes. Let's get it moving.

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