Living in Suburbia Superbia, this means commuting.
PART ONE: In The Olden DaysIn my life BC (before children), I took public transport to work: the tram back when I lived in "Zone 1", and the train once I moved to the 'burbs. I used to enjoy the train because it was roomier than the tram, air-conditioned, and I could sit and read a book. (Anyone living in Melbourne will recognize this was some time ago, as the trains during rush hour are no longer roomy, and it's rare to find space to read a book).
When I returned to work after maternity leave, having to drop off and/or pick up the girls from daycare (open between 7am and 6pm), starting work at 8am and finishing at 5pm, the train was no longer an option. I wouldn't have got door to door in time.
And so began my life as one of those horrible, selfish, stupid single-occupier car drivers who congest the freeways, hog our city's resources and increase our carbon footprint.
PART TWO: When I Had A Watertight Excuse
|Photo by Nationaal Archief via Flickr CC|
Where we live, public transport from our house to the train stations is patchy. There is a bus that goes on the half-hour, between 6am and 6pm. I used this approximately two times, because: (1) I could only do it on a day I wasn't doing drop-off or pick-up; (2) I had to get up at 5:00am, then (3) I had to walk a kilometre to the bus-stop, which meant (4) I had to wear comfortable shoes and walking clothes or carry change of clothes/shoes with me, and despite all that (5) I could never catch the bus home from the station anyway, as the last one left at 6pm, which is later than my train from the city would arrive, so (6) I had to pay $12 for a taxi home from the station, thus wiping out the cost benefit of not driving.
All this is not a complaint you understand - we chose to live in a 3-bedroom house in the 'burbs (the audacity!) rather than squash our family into a flat closer in, or spend half a million on a townhouse in a sustainable urban village on the city fringe. I don't expect the government to underwrite my lifestyle or put on a million more train lines. I don't expect my employer to pay me to work half-days, work from home or set up branches in the eastern suburbs. I don't expect to find work close to home paying the same money or offering the same career opportunities. I don't expect daycare centres to offer 24 hour service or schools to look after my children until evening.
What I would like, if it were a teensy bit possible, is for media types, urban planners, public commentators, inner-city dwellers and bicycle riders to STOP vilifying me for driving to work!!
PART THREE: Current DayAs Tom Vanderbilt points out in his excellent and compulsively readable book Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us), the reasons people commute and their relationship with commuting are complicated.
For example, who can understand this picture?
|Sydney Hobart Yacht Race 1971 - |
State Library of NSW
But also, consider these points about my own driving habits:
- At some point during the childcare years, we worked out that I did not have to be solely responsible for drop-off and pick-up, since my husband works closer to home than me, and sometimes starts work later. So he started taking them and picking them up 2 days, and the other 3 he dropped them off and I picked them up. This gave me 2 days where I did not have to drive to work. I did "try" to take the train on those days, but my efforts were sporadic. The main reason was time, or more accurately a bit of time and a lot of convenience. If I drive to the station and take the train, going to work takes an hour and twenty minutes. Coming home takes longer - I would not get home until 7pm. In comparison, driving takes 45 minutes. That's a BIG difference. Because as any working-at-the-office mother knows, the later you get home in the evenings, the more shitful the night goes for you and the kids, with the knock-on effects bleeding into the next day (kids are grumpier, mum is more stressed, dinner is rushed, everyone gets to bed later, prep is curtailed for the next day...). So even when I "should" have used public transport, I usually drove, despite the cost and sometimes the guilt, because that half-hour difference was worth it.
- Currently I only work 3 days, and on 2 of those my husband is at home (he works weekends); which means for two of those days he looks after the kids, gets dinner, etc. As I am home more with the kids I don't feel as guilty about making sure I squeeze as much time as possible being by their sides, plus I am no longer exhausted every day. All of this means that the extra half-hour commute using public transport should no longer bother me on those 2 days, and I should easily be able to take the train to work. But.... I don't. I've got used to the comfort and convenience of driving my car.
|Missouri W.P.A. Art Project, 1943 |
(Library of Congress) - via Flickr
- I have a love-hate relationship with my commute. I wish it was shorter. I am not the world's best driver and am aware that the risk of an accident soars on the days I am run-down or just tired. I know all the costs - petrol, tolls, city parking, risk of crashes, extra wear and tear, and the impact of less movement on my fitness. But I love listening to the news and talk shows on the radio, the familiar banter between Red Symons and Jon Faine, AM with Tony Eastley (and the thoroughly excellent PM with Mark Colvin on the way home) and even (when I am running late), guiltily catching the beginning of the Jon Faine show during the time I should be at work. I like doing my make-up sitting in the carpark five minutes before I go up to work. I like being able to cart stuff in and bring stuff home. (Compare coming home on the train with dry-cleaning). I do miss walking, which I used to do a lot of. When I do take the train and walk the 2 blocks to work, I notice and enjoy interacting with the environment (pavement, air, sights and sounds) the way you don't in a car. On those days I wish I could walk to work, or catch a tram or a train from walking distance to home. But I think mostly I am like the commuters mentioned in Traffic: Why We Drive The Way We Do (And What It Says About Us), who name the daily commute as the worst part of their day, but when asked what they would like instead, nominate "a shorter commute", rather than "no commute".
"98% of US commuters favor public transportation for others." - Headline in The Onion
"As [traffic increases], things get worse for everyone, but as there is still a gain for each driver (getting to work, getting home), that exceeds the gain from not driving, and as the loss is shared by all, people keep joining the freeway."
"...once you have shelled out for a car, the comparatively marginal cost of another trip is barely noticeable - in other words there is little incentive not to drive."
"...a half-mile is as long as planners believe the average person is willing to walk."
"The reason we see so many people on the roads, getting in our way, is that so many of them are doing things that used to be done at home. This, too, is a function of affluence, but it's a complicated relationship. Do we drive to a restaurant for take-out food because we can afford it or because we are so busy trying to make money we have little choice?"
"One study that looked at the working poor found that those with a car were able to get around three times more quickly than those without one. Even people who do not own a car are more likely to commute by car than public transport."
"Trying to crack the commuter psyche is rather bewildering work. On the one hand, people seem to hate commuting.... On the other hand,... when people were asked to name an 'ideal' commute time, their mean response was not, as you might expect..., 'no commute', but sixteen minutes."
And finally, just because it's so good, enjoy "Mr Walker and Mr Wheeler" in Disney's Motor Mania (made in 1950, watched and loved by my family in the 70's, and still so relevant!)
How do you get to work? Do you commute?
Do you hate it or is it not so bad?