Qualitative Costs of Inter-City Commuting

By Michael Macgillivray; Posted Aug 28, 2018

What’s your time worth? It’s a question that’s often asked but often difficult to answer.


When it comes to business travel, there is an expressed desire to maintain productivity while reaching your destination in a reasonable amount of time. Whether its minimizing delays or choosing the most efficient means of transportation, the relationship between timeliness and productivity is often a give-and-take.


When it comes to Inter-City transportation, there are limited ways to maintain productivity while en-route to your destination. This is especially true for cities that fall anywhere from 200-400 KM between each other. When it comes to these distances, there are often minimal options, typically either short-haul flights, bussing, or driving yourself.



While it’s easier to recognize the financial costs of Inter-City commuting (fare, gas, etc.), it’s often more difficult to realize the non-financial costs associated with a commute. Bridget wrote a great piece earlier this year detailing the true costs and time for Calgary-Edmonton round trips which you can read here.


Flying poses its own challenges in that delays can easily occur, and if even your flight is delay-free, you really end up compromising your productivity because of the extra time spent in the airports, or finding cabs to/from the airports. Even if you’re lucky enough to get a flight with Wi-Fi, by the time you’re settled in and ready to work, it’s almost time to land. By the time your flights are done, you’ve often lost just as much as time as if you had driven.


Bussing can be a somewhat reliable transportation, but you’re still at the perils of their scheduling and availability along with any delays. The bus also doesn’t provide much privacy which may be necessary when it comes to making confidential phone calls or emails.


Finally, we get to driving yourself which may seem like the most appealing option when analysing from a dollars and cents perspective, but it can actually cost much more than just gas money.



When you’re behind the wheel, your productive capacity is limited to any capability you have to work hands-free, such as a conference call or maybe using voice-text if you’re lucky. An average round-trip between Calgary and Edmonton is about 6-7 hours, so if you’re driving a round-trip just once every couple weeks, you’re losing around 170 hours of productivity per year or just over 7 days behind the wheel.


Even if you do manage to have a conference or get some work done while driving, your safety could be in jeopardy. A 2016 study by the Queensland University of Technology found that talking hands-free can be just as dangerous as talking into a cell phone, despite one being illegal and the other not. The study showed that whether you’re talking hands-free or into a phone, your reaction time will be slowed by up to 40% on a highway. At the 110 km/hr speed limit, that could be an additional 30 metres of delay.


The added factor of stress from work can significantly decrease driving performance while also causing more stress from the actual driving itself. A report from HSE UK found that drivers who carried higher levels of workplace stress also experienced higher lapses in reaction time and more speeding occurrences while driving. Additional time pressures such as traffic delays or running late were also associated with increased lapses in reaction time. The same report observed that high job stress was one of the best predictors for future motor vehicle accidents, especially for those commuting long distances on a regular basis.


So while you may only be spending $300 on a plane ticket, or $200 on gas to drive yourself, the non-financial costs associated with inter-city commuting can accumulate past the sheer dollar value. Limited productivity and general travel stresses can take a toll on the average business traveller. Work can already be stressful enough, the commuting shouldn’t be.


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