Recipe for easing commuting pains in megacities

Cao Xinyu
According to a recent survey conducted by China Youth Daily, about 93 percent of young people in China's big cities find commuting a problem. 
Cao Xinyu

Being on a subway for two hours can be an emotional downer — something I struggle with every day.

My home is 20 kilometers away from the office, so I am forced to commute on two subways. Despite my best effort to avoid rush hours, it can still be a challenge to reach my office everyday.

The barrage of noise, smell and commuting with other frustrated commuters can be hard to handle sometimes. I have lost count of the number of times I have been elbowed by fellow passengers for seats, or been pushed back by commuters trying to get in with suitcases as I tried to get off the Metro.

The subway is also filled with eccentrics. I guess I’ll never figure out why some people clip their fingernails on the subway. A friend of mine, who lives only six Metro stops away from her workplace, also finds that the short commuting time doesn’t make life easier.

Normally, she has to let go of three Metro trains before successfully getting into a stuffed carriage. Once, she had to forgo seven Metro trains. With someone’s bag in her face, she felt like sardines in a tin, suffocating and on the verge of throwing up. She vented out on the social media that even before her work starts, she’s feels cranky, stressed and worn-out. Compared to her, I feel like the lucky one. But honestly, there are too many dissatisfied commuters like us.

According to a recent survey conducted by China Youth Daily, about 93 percent of young people in China’s big cities find commuting a problem. The main reasons are traffic jams and long commute time over far distances.

People who have to commute over a long distance show less satisfaction in life, lower work efficiency, increased anxiety and negativity, the survey found. Driving in heavy traffic may exacerbate those feelings. As a psychologist put it, long drives in crowded traffic make people tense and sensitive, especially for fast-paced city dwellers.

When they hit the road, they subconsciously think they’ll be there in the way and time they had imagined. But if anything unexpected happens, like an accident or congestion, their mood is ruined. They snap at every little hassle, leading to road rage. The emotional impact can be dire. Those who spend over an hour on one-way commute are 33 percent more likely to be depressed, according to research by Cambridge University.

Admittedly, nobody wants to endure the frustrating commute if they have a choice. But the fact is, in megacities like Shanghai and Beijing, housing prices and rents in downtown are high. Many young people working in downtown have to live in suburbs to save money.

Beijing and Shanghai already have developed public transportation networks. The subway systems are extensive and easy to navigate.

However, the average commute times in Beijing and Shanghai are still the longest in China — 56 and 54 minutes, respectively, according to a report published by Jiguang, also called Aurora Mobile, a NASDAQ-listed data aggregation company.

Municipal governments are already making efforts to ease commuting pressure. For example, many cities, such as Beijing and Zhengzhou in Henan Province, have implemented the odd-even license plate rule for vehicles.

It restricts cars on alternate days based on the last number of their plates. By bringing down the number of cars on the roads to almost half, the rule eases traffic and air pollution. Urban planning authorities are stepping up their efforts as well. In Beijing’s overall planning for 2016 to 2035, promoting job-housing balance is on its agenda.

It aims to improve the job distribution so that people can seek jobs closer to home. As a result, commuting distance may be shortened, and people can simply bike or walk to offices.

Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang Province, is building a one-hour commuting network. It consists of eight intercity railways, connecting Hangzhou with eight nearby cities within an hour.

Besides, we commuters should also learn to decompress ourselves. Daily commute doesn’t have to be all doom-and-gloom. New books or cheerful playlists can be helpful, which I’m currently trying out. Even after a stressful commute, venting it to friends or colleagues, or going for a walk on lunch break can help in regaining the mojo. Flexible working hours are also worth considering for employers. Working from home, starting the work earlier or leaving late helps in avoiding rush hours. 


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