The World’s Longest Commutes

If you think your local commute is bad, then get ready to commiserate with the millions of other commuters around the world dealing with traffic build-ups, public transport delays and other transit nightmares. 

In this Parkhound deep dive into some truly astounding transport data, from both here in Australia and abroad, you’re going to learn who can really say they have the worst—or, in some cases, most surprising—commute.

And don’t worry, we won’t just bear the bad news. We’ll also throw in some tips and tricks to shorten your commute and make the most of your time behind the wheel.

Let’s start at home: what does commuting look like across Australia?

Wherever you are in Australia, chances are, you’re all-too-familiar with long commutes. We are, after all, a car-centric country, which can be an advantage and hassle. 

For those who love to drive, Australia is a paradise. In fact, it’s common to see us listed in top countries for road trips. We’ve got such a wide range of gorgeous landscapes that it’s no wonder why adventurers would want to spend hours on the road taking it all in.

On the other hand, there are a few cities that have gained a negative reputation for having some of the country’s longest commutes. And when you’re sitting in traffic instead of marveling at the beauty of the outback, you might not be so excited about Australia’s sprawling cities.

So, what are some of the worst commute times in Australia? Here are the top contenders, according to the 2019 HILDA survey:

  • Sydney. Now, this one didn’t surprise you, did it? Sydney has consistently ranked as the city with the longest local commute time in Australia for a number of years now. According to the latest data, Sydneysiders average a commute time of 71 minutes per day. That’s up 17% since the early 2000s.
  • Brisbane. Brisbane is an interesting case, because while residents here deal with the second longest commute on the list at 66.7 minutes per day, they’ve also had to deal with one of the most drastic increases in commuting time in recent years. That’s to say that since 2002, this city has seen an increase in travel times of 44.8%. 
  • Melbourne. Third large city on the list, Melbourne residents can expect a daily commute of 65 minutes. The lengthening of travel times hasn’t been as drastic as Sydney or Brisbane, but residents in this city have still had to tack on an 11.5% increase since 2002.
  • Perth. At number four, Perth commuters are behind the wheel or on public transport for just under an hour a day—59.3 minutes to be exact. Adelaide is right behind Perth, with an average daily commute of 56.3 minutes.
  • ACT. Within the Australian Capital Territory, commuters face an average transit time of 51.5 minutes and the highest increase since 2002: this region has seen a jump in commuting time of 64.5%.

Now, how about the Aussies who live outside of the major cities? How are they faring with local commute times? To put it in perspective, that same HILDA survey compared Australia’s biggest cities with their larger territories:

  • NSW. Compared with Sydney, residents in larger New South Wales can take off about 20 minutes per day for their local commute. The average travel time for NSW commuters is 51 minutes.
  • Queensland. Queensland commuters report that they spend an average 49 minutes per day in transit, so they’ve got about 17 extra minutes to spare compared to their Brisbane neighbours.
  • VIC. Just like NSW, residents in Victoria can shave off a full 20 minutes from the average Melbourne local commute time. They report an average of 45 minutes in transit per day.
  • SA. In South Australia, residents outside of Adelaide commute about 42 minutes everyday. 
  • NT. Commuters in the Northern Territory have the shortest commute time, of only about 35 minutes per day. 

So, when it comes down to who in Australia has the worst local commute, the data points to New South Wales, and specifically, Sydney. In many parts of the state, residents spend about an hour travelling to work everyday, leading to an average of 20 hours in commute time per month.

Commute times are interesting, but they don’t tell us the whole picture. How are Australians travelling to work?

To be sure, it’s surprising to hear the sheer amount of time that Aussies spend travelling to work. But, it doesn’t really tell us much about what that commute is like. For instance, a commuter in Sydney could be spending that hour in traffic. Or, they could be getting their daily exercise by riding a bicycle to work. Maybe they’re listening to their favourite podcast while on the bus. 

All of these options could have a completely different impact on how that Sydney commuter views their commute. So it’s worth taking a look at some of the different transit options around the country.

By far the most popular way that Australians are travelling to work is by driving their own car. According to the 2016 census, 61.5% of people across Australia stated that they drove their car to work

That said, a lot can happen in four years. Even just one year later, we saw reports that Australians, especially the younger generation, were starting to give up the driving life. It’s likely that driving will remain the most popular way to get to work, but don’t be surprised to see more variety in how Australian’s choose to travel in the future!

So, what are some trends that you might start to see in your local commute instead of driving? Here are what the transport pros predict:

  • Riding a bicycle. According to a 2019 survey, of the over 3.4 million Australians who ride a bike, about a third report that they use their bicycle as a mode of transportation to work, school or the shops. 

The amount of bike riders is especially high in places like ACT and the Northern Territory, and there’s growing interest at a national level in cycling more often. 

Unfortunately, one of the big barriers to more people using cycling as their normal transport is a hesitancy about riding in traffic. Only about 1% of the cyclists who commute on a bike self-identify as confident transport riders, taking the shortest route to work regardless of traffic. Others tend to be more hesitant about sharing the road with cars and buses. So, cities interested in boosting non-car commute options may consider planning in more bike-friendly roadways.

  • Public transport. In many major cities around Australia, transport infrastructure has gotten a boost in recent years. We’ve covered some of the public transport changes to expect in Sydney, but the focus on improving city transport isn’t just limited to NSW. As city populations rise, you can expect that buses, trains, and other public transport modes will be expanded to accommodate more commuters!
  • Ditching the long commute altogether. With more opportunities for working remotely than ever before, many Australians are deciding not to go into the central office at all. For those able to tune in remotely, the choice is obvious: work in the comfort of home or choose a coworking space close enough to walk or ride a bike.

It’s clear that the way that Australians are travelling to work is changing rapidly. We’re excited to see how these changes can give people more flexibility in their travel options and possibly choose a better work-life balance!

What does the local commute look like around the world?

Now that we’ve got a good idea of the current and future landscape of transit in Australia, how do we compare to the rest of the world? Here are some of the longest commute times and most interesting ways that people in other countries are travelling to work!

Longest commute times:

  • Manila, Philippines. If you think peak hour is bad in Sydney, it will astound you to hear that drivers in Manila spend an average 42.6 minutes extra when they attempt to drive during peak hour. So, for those travelling to work and back home during the busiest traffic times, they can expect to sit for at least 85.2 minutes daily. Over the course of the year in 2019, it was estimated that drivers spent 257 hours in traffic.
  • Nairobi, Kenya. The local commute in this metropolis can average 80 minutes per day, and the gridlock once famously kept commuters stuck in traffic for three days! That multi day traffic jam may have been a one-time thing, but commuters do spend quite a lot of time behind the wheel.
  • United Arab Emirates. Commute times can be so long in some of the UAE’s business districts, like Dubai, that some workers have attempted to sue their employers for overtime to cover their long commutes. The employees in the lawsuit claimed that the two hours they spent in traffic everyday should be covered by their employer. On average, commuters in the UAE spend about 96 minutes travelling to work and home. 

Most crowded public transport commutes

You might have seen the unbelievable pictures of Japan’s oshiya, designated passenger pushers whose job is to push commuters onto already crowded subways. But, it may surprise you to know that Japan doesn’t top the list when it comes to most crowded commutes. 

According to Google data, here are the top three busiest commute lines:

  • Buenos Aires, Argentina, Urquiza Line
  • São Paulo, Brazil, Line 11
  • Buenos Aires, Argentina, Line A

That’s right, Tokyo doesn’t even show up on the list until #7. Apparently, some subway systems in South America are far more crowded than in Japan, even without an official passenger pusher. 

Commute options that will surprise you:

Travelling to work doesn’t always mean packing into a crowded tram or sitting in traffic. These international commute options will have you rethinking your morning commute:

  • Cable cars in Bolivia. In 2014, the city of La Paz introduced an innovative form of public transport: cable cars. These silent and quick public transport cars glide over the city for an unbeatable view, and much better local commute experience. And, because they run on electricity, they help to lower air pollution in La Paz.  
  • Germany’s suspended monorail. Like the cable cars in Bolivia, this local commute option isn’t for those with a fear of heights. The electric, suspended train, called the Schwebebahn, has been shuttling commuters over Wuppertal since 1901.
  • Dog sledding in Alaska. Mushing is a millenia-old form of local commute for those living in the cold north of Canada and Alaska. And while it’s been replaced in most areas by cars or snowmobiles, you can still see plenty of families relying on their trusty dogsled team to get to work or pick up supplies from their local town.

How can you shorten your local commute?

While you may not be able to shorten your commute by hopping on a city-crossing cable car or liven up your trip with some fluffy sled dogs, there are still a few things that you can do to make your local commute a bit easier.

Here are some tips to shorten and make the most of your commute:

  • Mix up your commute options. If you’re looking to save money and spruce up your commute experience, you might try a mix-and-match approach. For instance, if you’re not too excited about using public transport but you’d like to save some money on fuel, you might split your time between driving and using public transport. Simply having a variable commute schedule can also break up the monotony of travelling to work. 
  • Consider travel options outside of peak time. Peak time is to blame for many cities’ long commute times. Everywhere from Los Angeles to Melbourne, it can seem like peak time traffic is just par for the course. But it doesn’t have to be! 

Perhaps you can make a plan to leave the house earlier and fit in an hour at a gym near the office or your favourite coffee shop. You’ll love the added productivity in the quiet morning hours.

Of course, this option isn’t available for many families who may be juggling their children’s schedules. Because of that, some cities have suggested implementing staggered work hours, which could help lower traffic congestion. If you think your employer would be open to hearing about the benefits of staggered work schedules, you can point them in the direction of a 2013 study and another from 2016 showing the potential benefits of this alternative system. 

  • Talk to your employer about work from home options. With the technology we have today, working from a physical office is quickly becoming outdated. And while some companies may still need an in-person workforce, others may simply be holding onto old habits.

If you’re interested in being part of the new work-from-home wave, speak up! It can save you hours of commuting time!

  • Make special plans for big traffic events. To be sure, you don’t want to be stuck in traffic while travelling to work. But it’s even worse when you’re stuck in traffic on the way to a big sporting event or concert! 

Throughout the year, tens of thousands of fans are drawn to our world-class stadiums, including Stadium Australia, MCG, and ANZ Stadium. Whether it’s rugby, AFL or cricket, it’s not uncommon to see anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 people filling the stands— and the parking lots— on the day of the match.

Because driving and parking can be a huge hassle at large sporting events, it’s a good idea to have a commute plan. That might mean arriving in the stadium area well in advance of the match so that you can avoid the traffic beforehand. 

Or, you can plan on booking your parking space ahead of time through Parkhound so that you don’t have to contend with the packed stadium car parks. Take a look at the convenient parking spaces for your next event at MCG, Sydney Cricket Ground, or Perth Stadium.  

  • Use your commute time mindfully. If you’ve been looking for ways to improve your public transport experience, you might consider downloading a meditation app. Meditating on public transport may seem difficult, but it can be a lovely way to set yourself up for a more mindful day ahead.

Other fun activities for public transport include audiobooks, puzzle games on your phone, knitting, or anything else that captures your interest and lowers stress.

  • Upgrade your bicycle. Maybe you tried to cycle to work once but promptly gave up because you were using an outdated bike. To make this commute option work for you, it’s best to try upgrading your bike to something that is actually enjoyable to ride! A nice bike can be expensive, but in the long run, it’s much cheaper than the cost to maintain a car!

How are you feeling about your local commute?

Now that you know more about the average Australian commute and some eye-opening commute stories from around the world, will you explore other options for travelling to work? Here at Parkhound, we’d love your ideas on how you’d like to improve your local commute times!