Why commuters are going the extra mile for their daily grind

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The Independent Online

Attempting to juggle the good life with city-based jobs is adding hours to the daily grind for almost a million commuters, figures show.

Not content with working increasingly lengthy hours, tens of thousands of employees now commute more than 100 km a day, a rise of a third in their numbers in the past decade.

The average commuter in England and Wales, meanwhile, takes an hour a day to make a 24.2km (15 mile) round trip to their job, the equivalent of about 10.5 days a year.

Research presented to the Royal Geographical Society annual conference yesterday analysed the commuting patterns of 30 million workers.

The biggest jump was in those who venture more than 50km from home to work. It had shot up a third, from 2.7 per cent of employees in 1991 to 3.5 per cent in 2001; 825,000 are now making that daily trek.

The authors suggested a number of factors played a part in the trend, including the hunt for jobs far from home, the desire to live in the countryside and the need for second incomes.

Senior managers and those in professional occupations were most likely to be making the longest journeys, forming up 64 per cent of those travelling more than 50km. While secretaries and those in skilled trades made up a further 16 per cent, only very few factory workers or those in what the survey called basic occupations travelled that far from home.

The researchers at Aalborg University in Denmark analysed the results from the 1991 and 2001 British censuses using digital mapping techniques and drew up an analysis of commuting patterns in England and Wales. It found far more people were commuting into - rather than within - large cities. In particular there was a wider commuting corridor in the countryside from London, over Birmingham, through to Manchester and Liverpool.

Professor Thomas Nielsen said larger tracts of land around the key urban areas were becoming suburban, with the distinction between city and countryside rapidly disappearing. "The corridor has also been extended to the south where commuting between the coast (particularly Brighton and Southampton) and London has increased. Commuter flow has grown around a number of cities outside the 'dominant' central corridor, for instance Cardiff, Bristol and Newcastle," the report said.

Only Birmingham appeared to be bucking the trend, with an increasing number of people commuting short distances within the city rather than opting to move into the countryside.

Professor Andrew Oswald, of Warwick University, blamed an increasing number of home-owners and dual income families. After the war, he said, far fewer women worked and 55 per cent of the population were renters, predominantly of private property, making them flexible and able to move close to jobs.

The professor of economics said studies he had carried out found that, on average, Londoners took 40 minutes to get to work, those in the South-east 30 minutes and the rest of the country 20 minutes.

Unlike the Danish scientists, he found no correlation between professional positions and long-distance commuting.

Leonora Wilkinson: 'The looks on their faces are just pitiful'

After a year of spending five hours a day and almost half her wages commuting, the clinical psychologist Leonora Wilkinson, 28, decided that she had suffered enough. "I feel so sorry for people who have to commute every day. The looks on their faces on Monday morning are just pitiful," she said. "It was my choice to commute. I did my PhD at UCL and a clinical post came up from there, which was a good way to further my career. My boyfriend has lived in Brighton all his life so I sacrificed living in London to be with him." She got up at 6.30am to catch the 7am train to Victoria, and spent £90 a week on a Travelcard. The worst part of her daily commute began when she arrived at Victoria station. "It's awful because there's so many people. Just waiting to get into the station can add another quarter of an hour to your journey". Train delays caused missed appointments with patients.

Now she has a post that lets her divide her time between UCL and Sussex University.

Louisa Reynolds