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Variations in the rational use of time – The travel pulse of commutes between home and job


  • William Michelson

    () (Department of Sociology University of Toronto, Canada)


Ian Cullen and his research colleagues long ago suggested that people form habits in daily life that suboptimize behavior in view of constraints. Such rational suboptimization is posited here to apply to trips between home and work and to vary by time of the day. Previous research suggests that afternoons prove more difficult for people than mornings, with rush hour traffic patterns shown as one aspect. This paper contrasts with episode level data from Statistics Canada’s 2005 time-use survey the temporal pattern (shown as a “travel pulse”) of weekday commutes between home and job by full-time workers with external workplaces. The mean trip duration in the morning is less than in the afternoon, as is its standard deviation. This is rooted in a visibly greater dispersion of rational starting times from home in the morning with arrival at work at various times in advance of the start to the formal work day, while, in the afternoon, people typically depart from work directly at externally-determined closing times and in concentrated peaks. The result is that nearly twice the number of commuters set out at the same time during the afternoons than in the mornings. The less than individually-rational intensity of the afternoon commuting context is compounded by the concentration of everyday shopping stops during the afternoon commute. Mode of travel accounts for significantly different mean trip times, but differences in trip duration by time of day transcend travel mode. Differences by gender interact with mode of travel but are not generally significant. The rich legacy established by Andrew Harvey is apparent, as he has been an influential shaper and advocate of the Statistics Canada’s time-use surveys, the use of such data for transportation analyses, and a focus on episode-level analysis.

Suggested Citation

  • William Michelson, 2009. "Variations in the rational use of time – The travel pulse of commutes between home and job," electronic International Journal of Time Use Research, Research Institute on Professions (Forschungsinstitut Freie Berufe (FFB)) and The International Association for Time Use Research (IATUR), vol. 6(2), pages 269-285, September.
  • Handle: RePEc:leu:journl:2009:vol6:issue2:p269-285

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    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Jonathan Gershuny & John Robinson, 1988. "Historical changes in the household division of labor," Demography, Springer;Population Association of America (PAA), vol. 25(4), pages 537-552, November.
    2. Kay Axhausen & Andrea Zimmermann & Stefan Schönfelder & Guido Rindsfüser & Thomas Haupt, 2002. "Observing the rhythms of daily life: A six-week travel diary," Transportation, Springer, vol. 29(2), pages 95-124, May.
    3. Andrew Harvey, 1993. "Guidelines for time use data collection," Social Indicators Research: An International and Interdisciplinary Journal for Quality-of-Life Measurement, Springer, vol. 30(2), pages 197-228, November.
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    Cited by:

    1. William Michelson & Ugo Lachapelle, 2016. "Patterns of Walking Among Employed, Urban Canadians: Variations by Commuting Mode, Time of Day, and Days of the Week," Applied Research in Quality of Life, Springer;International Society for Quality-of-Life Studies, vol. 11(4), pages 1321-1340, December.
    2. Jean-Luc Tavernier & Philippe Cuneo & Claire Plateau, 2015. "Measurement of Quality of Life and Well-Being in France: The Drivers of Subjective Well-Being," Review of Income and Wealth, International Association for Research in Income and Wealth, vol. 61(1), pages 25-33, March.

    More about this item


    Rationality; suboptimization; commuting; time of day; travel mode; gender;

    JEL classification:

    • R41 - Urban, Rural, Regional, Real Estate, and Transportation Economics - - Transportation Economics - - - Transportation: Demand, Supply, and Congestion; Travel Time; Safety and Accidents; Transportation Noise


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