Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Commuting times stay constant even as distances change

Date:
June 16, 2014
Source:
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Summary:
How much commuting can you tolerate? A new study shows that across countries, people assess their commutes by the time it takes them to complete the trip, generally independent of the distance they have to travel -- as long as they have a variety of commuting options to chose from.

Commute Patterns: Abidjan, Lisbon and Riyadh.
Credit: Image courtesy of Massachusetts Institute of Technology

How much commuting can you tolerate? A new study by MIT researchers shows that across countries, people assess their commutes by the time it takes them to complete the trip, generally independent of the distance they have to travel -- as long as they have a variety of commuting options to chose from.

The study, which compares commuting practices in five locations on four continents, also demonstrates the methodological validity of using mobile phone data to create an accurate empirical picture of commuting.

"Every country has had its own different way of doing things and collecting data," says Carlo Ratti, an associate professor of the practice in MIT's Department of Urban Studies and Planning, director of MIT's Senseable City Lab, and a co-author of the new study. "Here we have standard data which allows us, for the first time, to evaluate mobility across countries."

Commuting research has often been conducted via surveys, making it difficult to develop cross-country comparisons. But by using anonymized phone data, the MIT researchers found some fundamentally similar patterns in different locations.

"It really reveals that commuting patterns around the globe are constant," says Stanislav Sobolevsky, a researcher at the Senseable City Laboratory and a co-author of the paper, published in the journal PLoS ONE. The paper's co-authors are Ratti, Sobolevsky, Kevin Kung, and Kael Greco, all of the Senseable City Laboratory.

"There was an element of surprise in how well the data showed this," says Kung, the corresponding author on the paper.

From Massachusetts to Africa

The researchers studied three metropolitan areas where a diversity of transport options let commuters keep travel times steady.

In Portugal, people could tolerate about 70 minutes of commuting in the morning, a figure that held fairly constant for commutes ranging anywhere from about 5 kilometers to more than 40 kilometers. About 28 percent of commuting trips around the country's largest city, Lisbon, occurred on public transport -- suggesting that commuters seem willing to budget the same amount of time whether they walk, drive, or take buses or trains.

The data show that in Ivory Coast, morning commutes average just under 80 minutes regardless of distance, while in the Boston area, morning commutes range from 50 to 60 minutes, again across many distances.

By contrast, using GPS data in a location where automobiles are the only realistic commuting option -- Riyadh, Saudi Arabia -- the researchers found that the amount of time spent commuting did, in fact, correlate to the distance traveled: The further commuters had to go by car, the longer it took them.

In Riyadh, only 2 percent of commuting trips were on public transport, and the average morning commute was about 50 minutes for trips of 5 to 20 kilometers, but increased to about 65 minutes for commutes of 20 to 40 kilometers.

People adapt

The researchers also used GPS data to study automobile-based commutes in Milan, Italy. There, the morning commutes of drivers increased from 40 minutes, for those traveling up to 10 kilometers, to 60 minutes for those traveling 10 to 20 kilometers, and more than 80 minutes for those traveling 20 to 40 kilometers.

As in Riyadh, driving distance related to time spent in the vehicle, although data from all forms of commuting -- Milan also has suburban rail lines, for instance -- would be needed to characterize the overall pattern of commuting in the area.

The researchers believe the findings may have practical applications for urban planners and designers -- especially knowing that commuters will use a variety of transportation options to stabilize their commute times, rather than insisting on driving to work.

"It suggests that in places that have a lot of different transportation options available, this [limit on time] holds quite well," Greco says. "In places that lean in one direction, car cultures, we saw a stronger association between distance and time." Sobolevsky adds: "People try to adapt to their situations."

The research also gives some support to a hypothesis, published by Italian physicist Cesare Marchetti in the 1990s, that humans have universally had commute times of about an hour, throughout history. Because the new findings show commute times varying across countries, but having regular patterns within those countries, the co-authors in the paper say the data represents the "localized form" of Marchetti's idea.

The researchers suggest that additional studies, with more granular phone data, could further refine the broad patterns found in their research.

"When cities in general take survey approaches to understand how people move, these are fraught with inaccuracies, and they're inconsistent from country to country," Greco says. "If you can standardize that measurement procedure, it becomes much easier to look at how people move on global level."

The study is part of a larger research project sponsored by mobile equipment manufacturer Ericsson that is being conducted by the Senseable City Lab.

Video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RN21R4S9Gt4


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The original article was written by Peter Dizikes. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Journal Reference:

  1. Kevin S. Kung, Kael Greco, Stanislav Sobolevsky, Carlo Ratti. Exploring Universal Patterns in Human Home-Work Commuting from Mobile Phone Data. PLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (6): e96180 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0096180

Cite This Page:

Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Commuting times stay constant even as distances change." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 16 June 2014. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140616204244.htm>.
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. (2014, June 16). Commuting times stay constant even as distances change. ScienceDaily. Retrieved October 20, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140616204244.htm
Massachusetts Institute of Technology. "Commuting times stay constant even as distances change." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2014/06/140616204244.htm (accessed October 20, 2014).

Share This



More Science & Society News

Monday, October 20, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

Traditional Farming Methods Gaining Ground in Mali

AFP (Oct. 20, 2014) He is leading a one man agricultural revolution in Mali - Oumar Diatabe uses traditional farming methods to get the most out of his land and is teaching others across the country how to do the same. Duration: 01:44 Video provided by AFP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Your Birth Season Might Determine Your Temperament

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) A new study says the season you're born in can determine your temperament — and one season has a surprising outcome. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
How Nigeria Beat Its Ebola Outbreak

How Nigeria Beat Its Ebola Outbreak

Newsy (Oct. 20, 2014) The World Health Organization has declared Nigeria free of Ebola. Health experts credit a bit of luck and the government's initial response. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
Ebola Worries End for Dozens on U.S. Watch Lists

Ebola Worries End for Dozens on U.S. Watch Lists

Reuters - US Online Video (Oct. 20, 2014) Forty-three people who had contact with Thomas Eric Duncan, the first person diagnosed with Ebola in the U.S., were cleared overnight of twice-daily monitoring after 21 days of showing no symptoms. Rough Cut (no reporter narration). Video provided by Reuters
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:

Strange & Offbeat Stories


Science & Society

Business & Industry

Education & Learning

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins