Saturday, 16 November 2013

Lost in translation (lazy headline writers)

From the Evening Standard:

London’s men spend 42 days a year commuting

Men from [sic] London in their early 40s spend more time on jam-packed trains and roads than anyone in the UK - 42 days a year.

The shocking figure - more time than most people get in annual leave - is revealed in research published today. The study shows the average commute for a male Londoner in his early 40s takes 84 minutes every day.

It also showed that teens in the capital spend far more time travelling to and from work than other young people around the country.

The actual research they reference is all good stuff, and the TUC have produced a handy table showing typical commute times by age, gender and region.

That 84 minutes figure (42 minutes each way) looks about right to me, so I did a quick check: 1.4 hours times x 230 working days a year = 322 hours = 13.4 days. Which doesn't sound too terrible, actually.

Let's read on:

Frances O’Grady, General Secretary of the TUC which undertook the analysis, called for firms to help workers use time more productively.

She said: “Men from London in the early 40s spend a whopping 84 minutes on their daily commute.

"That’s 42 working days a year in cramped trains or traffic-choked roads.

“With the cost of commuting set to rise again in the new year as wage-busting rail fares come into effect, businesses must do more to help staff avoid rush-hour travelling time.”

Aha, she's dividing 322 hours by 7.66 hours to arrive at 42 working days per year, that's why. So at least she was accurate and precise.

(But this is still a fairly meaningless figure, it's like saying that in your lifetime you spend twenty years sleeping or ten months on the toilet or something. So what?)


Anonymous said...

"(But this is still a fairly meaningless figure, it's like saying that in your lifetime you spend twenty years sleeping or ten months on the toilet or something. So what?)"

Well...except that sleeping is beneficial and to be encouraged as is sitting on the toilet [unless narcoleptic or routinely constipated].
Excessively long commutes [especially on roads] lead to a more aggravated and stressed out workforce and poorer outputs. So highlighting the difficulties of commuting to London might lead to more coherent government policy on transportation and taxation and the like as well as more flexible work arrangements with some employers.

Lola said...

If I go to London on the train for work - about 1.5 times a week at the moment - from Ipswich the bulk of my fellow travellers and I work on the train. So actually of that 42 days probably half is working anyway.

But for travel from home to my office in Ipswich takes about 15 minutes by car - except at present the council has buggered up the traffic management and it can take 30 minutes.

So overall I don't think this 'study' passes the 'so what?' test.

Mark Wadsworth said...

PC, there is little a government can do about commute times as it is down to personal pain thresholds.

If you make commuting easier and quicker then people will just commute more or longer distances.

L, no, I think the table they produced is most interesting, I did a Fun Online Poll myself on commute times. But that's as far as it goes, there's not much you can "do" with this information.

Anonymous said...

Sounds wrong though doesn't it?

If governments left roads and railways undeveloped [horse and carts the preferred mode of transport] we might have much shorter commute distances but with much lower incomes. So it must be advantageous to have effective transport networks and clearly this is one area where some state 'interference' is the best way of getting them.
Market solutions, 'pain thresholds of commuters' versus the paucity of good transport links provide optimal outcomes [and though Lola might be able to work on trains you won't if you are stood in a sardine can/carriage] is dubious.
Even if people are willing to endure huge amounts of stress in order to struggle to work this might not be good for them or for society. [increased illness in old age and associated pollution with traffic jams having wider effects on those not involved in traffic jams etc]so methods other than simple expansion of transport links might be considered. Like rebalancing the economy. eg. Away from financial services. Presumably LVT would impact central London disproportionately. So other things being equal reducing demand for jobs in the centre of London. If coupled with a reduction/abolition in NI which would have a nationwide effect, this might [naively] be expected to alleviate some of the worst traffic jams in and around London at least.

Mark Wadsworth said...

PC156: "the paucity of good transport links"

Well that's the thing. Driving in London is Hell, but the rail network is absolutely fantastic, quick, regular etc. If only half a million people wanted to use it every day then we'd all have a seat and a more pleasant journey.

But because of people's pain threshold and trade-offs, a million people use it every day.

LVT would have no negative impact on London or anywhere else. Those rents are already being collected by the landlord (or in Business Rates), all that happens is that the rents go into the central pot, and, as it happens, would be just about enough to cover total "local spending" in Greater London.

You've got to do the numbers before you say things like that.

Anonymous said...

"LVT would have no negative impact on London or anywhere else."

You make LVT sound like window dressing. If it doesn't take from rentiers [of which the biggest and best are in London]then what is its purpose? If rentiers are net losers then so would be the City and West End since that is where most live and work.

Mark Wadsworth said...

PC, of course it takes from rentiers! That is the whole point!

But tourists will still want to come to London, it will still be a capital city and trading centre, it will still be a good place to live and work (if you are prepared to trade space for convenience and variety) etc.

So to a Martian passing in a spaceship, nothing will have changed at all.

All those "bankers" shuffling round numbers on bits of paper will be just be replaced with other people in the same offices doing something more productive, organising exports or making films or whatever.