Thursday, 21 February 2008

Commuting Paradox

This was a fun read.

A commuter who travels one hour, one way, would have to make 40% more than his current salary to be as fully satisfied with his life as a noncommuter, say economists Bruno S. Frey and Alois Stutzer of the University of Zurich's Institute for Empirical Research in Economics. People usually overestimate the value of the things they'll obtain by commuting -- more money, more material goods, more prestige -- and underestimate the benefit of what they are losing: social connections, hobbies, and health. "Commuting is a stress that doesn't pay off," says Stutzer.

I hate it when an "expert" over-simplifies choices. First off. I love driving, I really do. I hate driving in the city. But the larger part of my commute between cities I really enjoy, as it relaxes me and reduces my stress.

That being said, I would prefer to lose the 2 to 3 hours a day I spend on the road getting back and forth to work. I've been trying for the last 5-6 years to find work closer to home. But man, every time I find a job, the pay sucks. I have even had prospective employers tell me that they liked the resume, but they weren't going to interview me because they know they can't compete with Toronto area wages.

Last summer I thought I had it nailed. Great company in Guelph, friends who work there who love the place and it was a 7 minute commute. Initially, the money looked promising. I still needed a car, but a 7 minute drive? What a plus.

Negotiations broke down over salary. They were still asking me to take a substantial pay cut. It was the closet offer to my current salary I had ever seen, but I still couldn't afford it. I worked at the math for a week, but in the end, I would have to cancel RRSPs and/or sell the house to make it work. My commuting costs were still more than covered by the difference in salary. Since I still needed a car, my commuting costs wouldn't have dropped to 0. The sacrifices required just weren't palatable.

And then I just got my T4. Turns out I forgot my "bonuses". Which means, if I had taken that job, it would have been an even larger pay cut. Ouch. So yeah, I guess on that part, I would have to agree with the experts. Salaries are 40% higher in Brampton than Waterloo region. Stupid huh? I guess I'm just as happy as the non commuters.

My wife and I love living in Cambridge. We find it to be a great city, and our neighbourhood is awesome. Moving to Brampton means giving up something we both love for the unknown, and also increased debt as housing prices are substantially greater.

Not only that, any neighbourhood I would move to would still require me to drive to my office. Bus service around my work is awful. We had one employee in the department taking the bus, he's since moved out of city and is now "commuting". So 100% of our staff are commuting in cars, and the average is well over 30 minutes each way. That says something right there.

If I had known then what I know now, maybe we wouldn't have made the choices we did. Looking back, its hard to see what I would have done differently. Regardless, now is where we are at, and trying to fix things isn't as easy as the "experts" would have you believe.

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