In February, as part of the meandering migration of a doctor on a training programme, I moved to a new hospital. Such enforced nomadism brings an emotional blend of weary dissatisfaction, ‘first day at school’ nerves and curious excitement.
The upheaval brings with it novelties; a new environment, new systems, and new people. Usually a new place of work also means a different driving route to etch into the memory. This time, however, the silver lining is a big improvement in my commute.
The cost of commuting
The word that springs to mind when I think of the cost of commuting is petrol. One of modern living’s evil necessities, the black gold byproduct has reached record prices since the most recent nadir of May 2020.
Based on distance, vehicular efficiency and price, petrol has probably cost me between £1,000 and £1,500/yr in recent times. I already baulk at such a figure, before remembering that’s merely the fuel.
Parking is another thorn in one’s side. On principle, I object to the idea of paying to park at my place of work. It means that I tend to leave home earlier than I would have to, park for free on residential streets near the hospital, then walk in. The habit has probably saved me £500/yr or so in parking fees. Sure it costs me some minutes each day, and leads occasionally ‘drowned dog’ status if I forget the brolly, but it’s worth it in my opinion.
Lest we forget that driving to work is predicated on owning a car, insuring it, paying road tax, MOT, maintenance, suffering depreciating value etc. These are costs not wholly derived from commuting, but are present nonetheless.
Mitigating monetary cost
In a bid to mitigate the cost of my commute, I previously ran the numbers on using the train to commute instead of driving. The upshot was:
• Even with a railcard (for which I’m now no longer eligible), the cost of season tickets was greater than that of driving
• Using ad hoc ticket purchases was equally dear, if not more so
• A 3.8% increase in rail fares massively outstrips the rise in doctor’s wages (which is actually a real-terms pay cut, again) even if not RPI/CPI
• There are some hospitals in my region I simply cannot commute to via direct train
• The timings of the trains are often inconvenient, leading to ridiculously early arrival at work and long periods waiting for trains on the way home
• There is a significant chance of the train being cancelled/delayed/bus-replacement-serviced, adding to the timing inconvenience and, if alternative modes of commute such as last-minute taxi are sort, even more expensive.
No, the train is neither more convenient, nor cheaper, than driving. I suppose it carries a ‘green’ bonus though.
The cost of commuting to work is offset by the ability of doctors in training programmes to claim excess travel expenses. That is, for every mile of commuting (car, train or cycle) over 17miles each way you can claim back part of the cost at the ‘nationally agreed reserve rate’. This contractual entitlement is, I suspect, under-utilised.
Time dies when you’re stuck in traffic
FI(RE) can often seem like a community obsessed with money. I put it to you that it’s actually a community preoccupied with time. Recognising that our lives are finite, FI(RE) seeks to maximise the amount of time in which we’re free to do what we find value in.
The time cost of commuting is phenomenal, and I say that as someone whose travelling time has probably been fairly average. Those minutes and hours spent to’ing and fro’ing are simply lost. It’s no wonder working from home has been so popular. Imagine an extra two hours of time each day! Time you’d otherwise be spending stuck behind the wheel in traffic. Or jammed in with the other sardines on the train.
That lost time is damaging. Perhaps not quite as detrimental as that lost to sleep debt, but it’s far from beneficial. A longer commute comes with worse job satisfaction and more psychological strain. One article suggested a twenty minute increase in commute time is as detrimental as a 19% pay cut.
Four wheels bad, two wheels good
My new journey to work has seen me swap the emission-generating automobile for the humble bicycle, in what I can only describe as a win-win-win:
I’m building health. I’m still pushing pedals, but in a far more salubrious fashion than accelerator, clutch and brake.
I’m saving time. It’s a moderate reduction, but a reduction nonetheless.
I’m spending less. It’s difficult to pin the figure down exactly, though I estimate it’ll be the better part of £1,000/yr.
As the days lengthen and the weather improves, I expect the benefits of my new commute will only increase. If I’m honest, it’s the financial aspects that I’m the least excited about. Driving felt like empty time, a life lost on motorways and in traffic jams. Cycling feels productive, a pleasant pedal each morning and evening, an activity I’d choose to do rather than one I’m forced into. The transition sees my previous sentence, hours spent driving to and from work, well and truly commuted.