Urban Economies: The Cost of Wasted Time

Much has been written in recent years about the costs of congestion, with ground breaking research by academics such as Prud'homme & Chang-Wong and Hartgen & Fields showing that the more jobs that can be accessed in a particular period of time, the greater the economic output of a metropolitan area. Greater access to jobs not only improves economic growth, but it also opens greater opportunities for people and households to fulfill their aspirations for a better quality of living.

Congestion costs are principally the cost of wasted time, which the most recent Texas Transportation Institute (TTI) Annual Mobility Report places at $15.47 per hour. It is important to understand that much of this cost is not because the car is not moving. It is rather because time that could be used more productively is being consumed.

Steve Polzin of the University of South Florida has raised a related issue that has been virtually absent from urban planning discussions in a Planetizen blog entitled "The Cost of Slow Travel." Noting that transit travel time is considerably slower than auto travel times, Polzin broadly estimates that slower travel on transit costs the nation $44 billion, which is two-thirds the $66 billion. Polzin does not suggest that this is a final, "take to the bank" lost productivity number, but does suggest attention to the issue.

Such thinking is long overdue. Wasted time is wasted time. Most wasted time occurs with respect to travel during peak periods, when most people are commuting to or from work. The $66 billion in wasted time by automobile translates into $550 per commuter per year in the United States (Based upon 2007 commuting data from the American Community Survey). The cost of wasted time for transit is 12 times as high, at $6,500 per commuter, using Polzin's estimate. Of course, as Polzin is quick to point out, these are not final figures. However, they are a starting point for important (and perhaps "inconvenient") economic research that has been largely kept off the agenda up until now.

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don't waste commute time!

I commute by bike, so time in transit is never wasted. Driving and riding come out to about the same time- an hour round trip to and from work- unless traffic is heavy, and then riding is actually faster. Also, I don't have to drive around trying to find a place to park, so riding is ultimately faster. But I have to commute one way or another, right? Might as well use that time wisely! By biking, rather than wasting time and money, I'm getting an hour of exercise in. Don't have to drive to an expensive gym, look for parking, pay for parking, etc. to get my exercise, I just multi-task it into my commute. Plus, the money I save! I don't have to pay for gas, for parking, for maintenance on my car. It's like I'm getting paid to exercise!

All that said though, I don't ride for the exercise or the savings. I ride because it's FUN. Because I feel like a little kid again when I ride. That's why, the rest is just gravy.