A Commute Too Far

WALL STREET JOURNAL – Every weekday morning, Brian Boudreau, 52, leaves his house in Temecula, Calif., at 5 a.m. to go to work. It takes him 45 minutes to drive to a Metrolink train station and another hour by rail to get to his office in downtown Los Angeles.

The 174-mile round trip was meant to be a temporary arrangement. “All of our [five] kids are in the local school system so it would have been very disruptive to move,” says Mr. Boudreau, who is a project manager at the Los Angeles County Metropolitan Transportation Authority. “I’m infamous at the office because of my commute.”

Mr. Boudreau is one of 3.4 million Americans who have “extreme” commutes, which the U.S. Census Bureau classifies as being 90 minutes or more each way. “It’s a trend that is not likely to improve for several reasons,” says Alan Pisarski, a transportation expert from Falls Church, Va.

Not only has the recession forced job seekers to widen their search radius, but out-of-reach home prices and households with multiple earners who commute to different workplaces are also major factors in the rise of extreme commuting. “It may not be very green, but the reality militates that most of us can’t live outside the gates of the factory any more,” says Mr. Pisarski.

To ease your commuting headaches, find out what commuting subsidies your company offers. Many offices will pay, at least in part, for bus, vanpool or train passes. If you have to drive, consider carpooling, even if you only share a ride to the train station or airport.

Although the Census Bureau says carpooling is down to nearly half of what it was in 1980, websites like Craigslist.org and eRideShare.com make it easier to connect with people who live and work close to you. Cities like Baltimore sponsor their own programs that offer free online matching services.

Most employers are open to accommodating commuters with some scheduling flexibility. Try shifting your working time around the worst rush-hour times. Leaving home an hour earlier or leaving work an hour later can make a big difference in how much time you spend in traffic.

“Learn to schedule your time more efficiently since long commutes will limit when you can run errands,” says extreme commuter Susan Feinberg, an associate professor at Rutgers Business School in New Brunswick, N.J. She lives 200 miles away in Washington and takes a train back and forth a couple of days each week.

Healthy eating is one of the first casualties since exhausted commuters are more likely to opt for fast food or microwave dinners when they get home. Instead, try preparing multiple meals at home that can be refrigerated or frozen in containers and parcel them out throughout the week. It’s cheaper, and portioning each meal allows you to easily track calories.

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