The “perfect” commute

Train arriving at Wymondham station, Norfolk. Image by Steven Hughes (licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Train arriving at Wymondham station, Norfolk. Image by Steven Hughes (licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

For my new job I travel to Cambridge, which is 60 miles away from where I live in Norwich. It takes me about 1 hr 40 minutes each way, with most of that time spent on the train. Since commuting now takes up a significant chunk of my day I have been thinking about how it is going so far, and if there is anything I can do that might make it better.

Instead of just making a list of the good and bad aspects of my commute I decided it would be more fun to compare it to my vision of a “perfect” commute.

The “perfect” commute is:

Always shorter than your own. I think there are very few people who are entirely happy with the length of their commute. Even use of the word “commute” tends to imply that the journey to work is quite long. I didn’t consider my 15-20 minute journey car journey to my old job as a commute…

Simple. Any journey with multiple stages, be it changing trains or using multiple forms of transport, is always going to be more hassle than using one form of transport for the whole journey. I am quite lucky that my current commute only involves a short car journey and a single train. Since the time I spend on the train is un-interrupted I can get on with things (or just stare out of the window) without having to watch the clock.

Comfortable. Nobody likes standing on a crammed train or bus squashed up against the door. Apart from the invasion of personal space, it is very hard to relax when you are worried that you might fall into a neighbouring passenger if the vehicle stops suddenly, or if you are crammed into a seat with limited leg room.

Fortunately for me, I virtually always get a seat – usually at a table — for the whole train journey. Even if I do have to stand for a while, the train clears out nearer Norwich so I’m not standing for long.

Reliable. A journey might look fine on paper, but if it never runs on time and is subject to frequent breakdowns or other issues then it can make it very tricky to get to and from work.

The “perfect” commute has:

A frequent service. You have much more flexibility if your bus/train runs every 10-12 minutes rather than once an hour like mine. I haven’t missed a train so far but I imagine that being an hour late to work because “I missed my train” sounds a lot more stupid than just being a few minutes late.

Good internet access. Most trains and buses still don’t provide wifi so many commuters depend on 3G access to use the internet. In rural areas (and underground!) this can be very patchy. For most of my commute I am essentially in internet silence, which can be quite annoying.

Opportunities to purchase refreshments. One morning, I woke up 3 minutes before I needed to leave home to catch my train to work. I did catch the train, but without any breakfast or my morning mug of tea so I was in a pretty bad mood. To make things worse, my train doesn’t have a refreshment service so my earliest opportunity to buy breakfast would be at the other end of my commute. Even without oversleeping, some days it would just be nice to be able to purchase a drink or a snack.

Of course, I could just BE PREPARED and carry some refreshments with me. I do usually do this, but invariably the days I need a snack most are the days when the snacks get left at home…

Friendly fellow commuters. I like talking to people on trains so I’m quite lucky that I know a few other people who also travel the same way. I also enjoy those odd moments where you land up in conversation with a fellow commuter you have just met. Even if you don’t like talking to people on your journey to work it can be nice to have friendly fellow passengers around if you need a hand with something, or to not push past you on the way out the train.

All in all, I don’t think I do too badly with my commute, yes it is long, and it isn’t perfect, but it is comfortable and simple. If I had to be picky though, I wouldn’t mind if I got to catch this train to work…

A steam train! Great Western Railway No.6024 "King Edward" on West Somerset Railway. Image by Crowcombe Al (Licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr

Great Western Railway No.6024 “King Edward” on West Somerset Railway. Image by Crowcombe Al (Licenced under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) via Flickr

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