Longer commutes are linked to lower life satisfaction – unless you commute by rail?

We have presented our findings on how and why commuting influences life satisfaction at various conferences over recent months, including the Centre for Transport & Society winter conference in December, the US Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting (TRB) in January and the UK Sustainable Transport and Health Summit 2017 in February.


The events were all well attended, with around 100 international delegates taking part in our session at TRB – We were fortunate to be involved in a fascinating session with Noreen McDonald, Giulio Mattioli and Greg Marsden presenting on reductions in travel amongst millennials and Michael Smart and Nicholas Klein speaking about how prior life experiences influence travel (which coincidentally related to our earlier research on life transitions and travel behaviour over the life course).

Our analysis of commuting and wellbeing has so far shown that longer commutes are linked to lower life satisfaction. We found that this was mainly because people with long commuters are less satisfied with how much leisure time they have left after work. However, the effects were different for rail users, where longer duration commutes were actually found to be linked to slightly higher life satisfaction.

The data we are using cannot fully explain this, but it is plausible that longer rail commutes involve more comfortable journeys, giving passengers the opportunity to do something productive or to relax. Shorter rail commutes on the other hand, particularly in London, may increase feelings of strain, probably because they involve travelling on crowded services.

We would be keen to hear about your own experiences of commuting. But this finding nevertheless has interesting implications for public transport policies, for example, indicating that the journey experience could be of more importance to commuters than the journey time, contrary to standard transport appraisal techniques which place a value on saved travel time.

For further details of our results so far, have a look at the bulletins available on the outputs page. We’re now moving on to look at what happens to wellbeing when people change their commuting situation e.g. Might we expect people that switch to long duration rail commutes to experience an uplift in life satisfaction?