Every weekday from his home in the northern suburbs to his job in the southeast of Shanghai and back, Zhihang Wu spends three to four hours trekking through the most concentrated metropolitan area in China.
“Four years,” Wu said. “It’s extremely miserable.”
In China, however, Wu is far from alone in this commuting ordeal.
The China Academy of Urban Planning and Design, a government-funded research institution, recently looked at 36 Chinese metropolises, and found more than 10 million people suffering from a one-way commute time of more than 60 minutes, accounting for 13% of all commuters. Beijing is the absolute worst commuting city according to the report, with an average one-way commute of 47 minutes and 26% of commuters spending more than an hour one-way.
In comparison, New York City has an average of 35.9 minutes per commute, topping the longest commute time in the United States, according to a Reuters report in 2018.
Long commutes encroach on time that could be used in more productive ways. It is physically tiring, and can be mentally consuming as well.
After a long day at work, Wu from Shanghai drives another dreadful hour or two and gets home around 8 or 9 p.m., the same time his 5-year-old son Manman is already getting ready for bed. And if he works overtime that day, it would be around midnight when he gets home. There’s little time left for his family.
“I barely have time to play or study with my son,” he said.
Buying a home with a limited budget didn’t give him the luxury to be selective about locations. He bought his current home because he could afford it, and buying a home was much harder than changing jobs. But landing an ideal job can be challenging as well, so he puts up with the long commute for now.
Junjie Wu in Beijing spends an hour on the subway to work and another hour back home. It’s a waste of time to spend that much time commuting, she said. But an hour per commute is acceptable for her, in a big city like Beijing.
“Rent is expensive in Beijing,” she said. “For me, a longer commute means cheaper rent.”
Shu Yang in Beijing spends about an hour and half per day on her daily commute, which is the maximum acceptable length for her. She used to spend more than an hour and half per commute at her last job, and it was painful. So she made sure to preclude that when she had to move.
Her ideal commute time is 10 to 20 minutes, with direct transportation options.
“I wouldn’t want to be too close to work either,” she said. “That’ll take away boundaries between work and my personal life.”