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Excess or wasteful commuting in a selection of British cities


  • Frost, Martin
  • Linneker, Brian
  • Spence, Nigel


This research considers the application of an urban zonal travel optimisation model to the actual commuting patterns between residences and workplaces in a selection of large British cities in 1981 and 1991. The model produces an estimate of the average commuting distance required if individuals could exchange residences and workplaces to minimise distance travelled. The proportion of the actual commuting distance above the optimum is defined as excess or wasteful commuting. The existing literature has pointed to some reservations about this methodology. This research fuels this debate and for the first time the importance of inward commuting into the designated city is highlighted. The results indicate that it is the changing form of urban areas, which is exerting the strongest influence on the increasing length of work journeys. It is important to distinguish between intra-urban changes (where trip lengths have increased only slightly) and those outside the city boundaries. Within some cities, recent changes show that workplaces and residences have, on average, moved closer implying greater potential efficiency. Yet, comparing actual travel distance change with change in the theoretically optimum travel distance, it is clear that excess commuting has increased by reasonably significant fractions. On the other hand, when a wider view of the daily urban system is taken, it becomes apparent that the dominant role is being played by the wider decentralisation of employees. This results in increases in average travel distances but these can be shown to be less than the increases in the theoretically optimum average distances which result if travel distances are minimised. The clear effect is for excess commuting to decline in almost all cities over the decade, and sometimes by significantly large amounts.

Suggested Citation

  • Frost, Martin & Linneker, Brian & Spence, Nigel, 1998. "Excess or wasteful commuting in a selection of British cities," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 32(7), pages 529-538, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:eee:transa:v:32:y:1998:i:7:p:529-538

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Small, Kenneth A & Song, Shunfeng, 1992. ""Wasteful" Commuting: A Resolution," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 100(4), pages 888-898, August.
    2. Hamilton, Bruce W, 1989. "Wasteful Commuting Again," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 97(6), pages 1497-1504, December.
    3. White, M.J., 1988. "Urban Commuting Journeys Are Not Wasteful," Papers 88-10, Michigan - Center for Research on Economic & Social Theory.
    4. Cropper, Maureen L. & Gordon, Patrice L., 1991. "Wasteful commuting: A re-examination," Journal of Urban Economics, Elsevier, vol. 29(1), pages 2-13, January.
    5. Hamilton, Bruce W, 1982. "Wasteful Commuting," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 90(5), pages 1035-1051, October.
    6. Genevieve Giuliano & Kenneth A. Small, 1993. "Is the Journey to Work Explained by Urban Structure?," Urban Studies, Urban Studies Journal Limited, vol. 30(9), pages 1485-1500, November.
    7. White, Michelle J, 1988. "Urban Commuting Journeys Are Not "Wasteful."," Journal of Political Economy, University of Chicago Press, vol. 96(5), pages 1097-1110, October.
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    Cited by:

    1. repec:gam:jsusta:v:8:y:2016:i:2:p:122:d:63105 is not listed on IDEAS
    2. Xiang Zhou & Xiaohong Chen & Tianran Zhang, 2016. "Impact of Megacity Jobs-Housing Spatial Mismatch on Commuting Behaviors: A Case Study on Central Districts of Shanghai, China," Sustainability, MDPI, Open Access Journal, vol. 8(2), pages 1-22, January.
    3. Murphy, Enda, 2009. "Excess commuting and modal choice," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 43(8), pages 735-743, October.
    4. Manning, Alan, 2003. "The real thin theory: monopsony in modern labour markets," Labour Economics, Elsevier, vol. 10(2), pages 105-131, April.
    5. Niedzielski, Michael A. & Horner, Mark W. & Xiao, Ningchuan, 2013. "Analyzing scale independence in jobs-housing and commute efficiency metrics," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 58(C), pages 129-143.
    6. repec:eee:transa:v:104:y:2017:i:c:p:179-194 is not listed on IDEAS
    7. Jonathan L. Gifford, 2011. "Psychology and Rationality in User Behavior: The Case of Scarcity," Chapters,in: A Handbook of Transport Economics, chapter 27 Edward Elgar Publishing.
    8. Korsu, Emre & Le NĂ©chet, Florent, 2017. "Would fewer people drive to work in a city without excess commuting? Explorations in the Paris metropolitan area," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 95(C), pages 259-274.
    9. Zhou, Jiangping & Wang, Yin & Schweitzer, Lisa, 2012. "Jobs/housing balance and employer-based travel demand management program returns to scale: Evidence from Los Angeles," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 20(C), pages 22-35.
    10. Cass, Noel & Faulconbridge, James, 2016. "Commuting practices: New insights into modal shift from theories of social practice," Transport Policy, Elsevier, vol. 45(C), pages 1-14.
    11. Suzuki, Tsutomu & Lee, Sohee, 2012. "Jobs–housing imbalance, spatial correlation, and excess commuting," Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice, Elsevier, vol. 46(2), pages 322-336.

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