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Just this side of heaven - your journey to work

23 Nov 2015  |  James Whitmore 
Just this side of heaven - your journey to work

While most likely considered a hindrance for the general population, the increase in the average time it takes to get to work is great news for mobile and out-of-home, writes Route's James Whitmore.

If you're reading this, you are probably at work. The journey may not have been terribly pleasant. But at least you had some time to yourself. Despite what the technologists may wish to believe, we have always commuted and I suspect that we always will.

What could surprise you is that it may well be in our nature to do so. We appear to have an innate time budget for travel, which is set at about one hour a day. Too much or too little and your quality of life diminishes. It explains why cities are the size that they are, why we hate commuting in our big cities, and it may also tell us what the future will be.

We know that the size of towns and cities is determined by the transport options that are to hand. In olden times, people travelled on foot. That's about 5km/hour. In days of yore, that is what people did, they walked.

With a one-hour travel budget, you'd have a personal radius of 2.5km. It meant that towns and cities were restricted in size, to about 5kms in diameter. If you look at old maps, irrespective of the era or the country, you will see that population centres had a footprint of around 20km2, which is the area of a circle with a diameter of 5km.

What about horses? They average about 20km/hour. But they really didn't figure for the majority of the population. Even by the relatively prosperous time of Waterloo, there was only one horse for every 10 people. Most horses worked on farms.

If you were rich and had stables, it didn't get you much further anyway. For example, in 1300, Edward I set the land-speed record for a Medieval monarch. For most of the Middle Ages, the royal retinue moved castle every five days on average.

His 34 miles in a single day trounced the regal norm, which sat firmly in the 20 to 30 mile range. Route keeps a surprising amount of back data, not all of it in Latin.

The big changes in transportation came with canal, rail, cars and then planes. You'll be pleased to know that the steady substitution fits closely with a model based on growth and decline following the S-shaped logistics equation, as this graph shows.

Route 1

Technological advances in transport allowed population centres to get bigger. For example, building a railway line to Surbiton meant that the journey to town became less than half an hour. The total daily commute falls within the one-hour-a-day travel budget. Everyone is happy. People will freely go to live in Surbiton and they won't moan about it.

The relationship between travel time and the size of cities is called 'Marchetti's Constant'. We will happily commute half an hour each way. If transport improves, we travel further but not for longer.

To an extent, we like commuting. Personal time, neither under the beck of our family or the call of our boss, is precious. People who live close to work, often break their journey to add some padding to their day. In terms of fulfilment, the commute is akin to childcare, with a similar mix of highs and lows and an overall 72% rate of satisfaction.

The problem arises when the transport system cannot keep up. Or people cannot afford to live within reach of their workplace. Our data show the distribution of morning commute times. Whilst the mode both in London and for the nation as a whole is under the desired thirty minutes, the GB mean sits at 37 minutes. On average, seven minutes of grumpiness on the way into work.

It is exacerbated in London, where there is a longer tail of commuting times. It is further aggravated if you are young and well educated; in fact you are at the bottom of the heap when it comes to commuting times.

Route 2

You may have seen a recent report from Lloyds Bank about the relationship between the price of housing and the cost of commuting.

Or perhaps even this, which shows the average monthly rent per tube stop.

It is partly a creaking transport infrastructure and partly housing costs, which mean that the average journey to work is now 15km, a 12% increase in 10 years.

It is great news for mobile and out-of-home media but perhaps less so for the common populace. For us, Crossrail, HS2 and other infrastructure cannot come quickly enough - nor would some reasonably priced new homes go amiss.

Mediatel operate two essential services for the OOH industry. SPACE is a collaboration between IPAO and Outsmart and is the most comprehensive and up-to-date list of inventory in the UK. The RouteAPI is a SaaS solution that enables easy integration of Route audience data into client's systems. See for more information.

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08 Jul 2020 

Data from Mediatel Connected
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