Saturday, March 2, 2013

Long Commutes Take a Toll on Our Wallets and Our Waistlines

People in the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Area have the worst commutes in the Nation according to a report that was released earlier this year. That came as no surprise to me. I live in Reston, Virginia and work in Rockville, Maryland. The 27 mile commute should take 32 minutes. Ha!

The cost of commuting has been in the news a lot in the DC area lately. Last week, I heard that Maryland congestion costs drivers $2,195 a year. If you use the ICC to commute in Maryland, it will cost you an additional $8.00 per day. If you take the Dulles Toll Road in Virginia, it costs $5.50 per day. (Tolls will increase to $7.00 a day January first of next year.) I probably shouldn't even get started on the new HOT Lanes

Commuting is not just hard on our wallets. Studies show that long commutes take a toll on health. CBC News reported, "People who drove longer distances to work reported less frequent participation in moderate to vigorous physical activity and decreased cardiovascular fitness, and had greater body mass index, waist circumference, and blood pressure." A Gallup Poll from a few years ago also showed that wellbeing is lower among workers with long commutes

What can employers do to improve the situation?
  1. Offer flextime to your employees so that they can chose to commute when traffic is not at its' peak.
  2. Offer on-site fitness classes and encourage employees to balance out some of the time they spend sitting with physical activity. 
  3. Provide options for employees to work from home. (Help your supervisors manage these situations so things don't get out of hand like they did at Yahoo and Best Buy.)
  4. Provide locker rooms with showers for your employees. 
  5. Encourage employees to take public transportation by offering transit benefits
  6. Advocate for improved public transportation in your area. 
  7. Advocate for bike lanes in your community and provide a safe place for employees to lock up their bikes while they're working. Research has shown that people that commute by bike are the happiest
What can you do to make your commute more bearable? (I'm assuming walking, biking and public transportation aren't reasonable alternatives here.)
  1. Check the traffic while you still have time to take an alternate route. I listen to WTOP or check the app on my iPhone. 
  2. Go into work early or stay late to exercise and avoid commuting during the heaviest traffic. 
  3. Listen to audio books. I use the Audible app on my iPhone and have a subscription that provides two credits (two books) per month for $22.95. I'm also a fan of quite a few Podcasts. 
  4. Be a connected commuter. A recent study has found that people who use crowdsourced traffic apps and services that connect them to other commuters tend to find their commutes less stressful. I use Waze
  5. If you have clean air tags in Virginia, you can use the HOV lane on the Dulles Toll Road and drive on 66 during the restricted hours. That's one of the many reasons I love my Prius! The rules are confusing though, so check them out carefully. 
  6. If you're going to use your cell phone, make sure you have a good hands free set-up. I can hear well through the bluetooth in my car, but people can hear me better if I use the standard issue Apple headphones
  7. A long commute can eat up a lot of your day, but if you're using it as an excuse to eat poorly, it's just that -- an excuse. If you tell yourself you don't have time to eat well and exercise, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Start telling yourself a new story and pack an apple for the ride home. 
  8. The other things that come to mind seem painfully obvious -- carpool if you can, use an E-Z Pass if you travel on a toll road, and make sure you pee before hitting the road. 
If you think I've missed something that could be helpful, please share your thoughts in the comment section below. 

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