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Going the distance

We speak to the people who get up early in the morning to spend many hours commuting to work, writes Geraldine Herbert

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Numbers game: Commuting times look set to continue rising as increasing numbers of people look to escape the high costs of property and childcare associated with city living

Numbers game: Commuting times look set to continue rising as increasing numbers of people look to escape the high costs of property and childcare associated with city living

Numbers game: Commuting times look set to continue rising as increasing numbers of people look to escape the high costs of property and childcare associated with city living

Most days at 7 am, Paula Hickey leaves her home in Gorey, north County Wexford and joins the M11. Two hours and 85 kms later she is at her desk in south county Dublin.

"I chose Gorey as a good place to live because I could afford to buy my home there and the commute seemed reasonably comfortable because of access to the M11 and N11. However, I now know that, even with these good roads it takes much longer than I originally thought and now with the impending 'improvement' works at Kilmacanogue in County Wicklow, I dread to think how much time this is going to add to my commute."

"Public transport is not a viable option for me. There is a train service that runs between Gorey and Dun Laoghaire, but I would have to take a bus from Dun Laoghaire. The overall commute would increase to more than 3 and a half hours and the bus services are even less palatable - earlier starts, non-direct routes and expensive!"

Paula is just one of a growing section of the population who have opted for lower mortgages and longer commutes. For others, childcare costs have driven them out of the city.

We are all travelling further to work than ever before, according to Central Statistics Office (CSO) figures and a recent survey found that commuting times are on the rise in every county. Long delays on our motorways, crowded and delayed public transport, and rush-hour bottlenecks in our urban areas are all increasingly impacting on the time it takes to get anywhere. There is however a significant variation in times travelled depending on where people live. Counties bordering Dublin had the longest average commuting time. Bridget Farrell, is currently commuting from her home in Tullamore to Leixlip in Co Kildare, a journey that is an 180km round trip. Public transport has never been an option despite having a train station located where she works.

"It's very frustrating" she says resignedly. "To even use public transport a part of the way I would need to drive thirty minutes to Mullingar to get on the Leixlip line which would make the commute much longer and still wouldn't eliminate the car. There are buses from Tullamore to Maynooth, but again I would need to get another bus then onwards to Leixlip. With an 8am work start, it just wouldn't be feasible and driving direct has worked best."

Like many people, Bridget has ended up with such an arduous commute as a result of what was once a simply temporary solution. She and her husband had always intended to buy a house closer to work.

But 15 years and two children later they have accepted that they're probably never going to do that, so she is stuck with being a long distance commuter.

"It certainly can be tiring, especially in the winter months but over the years, I've become more efficient with my time. These days, I listen to podcasts, make phone calls etc. As I work a lot with colleagues in the US, I would often take work calls in the car on the way home too."

"There are upsides she maintains. I converted from driving a diesel SUV to an electric car. From an environmental and economical perspective, it has been a very positive transition. I now enjoy a fuel-free commute with 50% discounted tolls. It is the perfect solution for me, and I feel great about it".

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But what impact does commuting have on people's lives and families? Research shows that long commuting times can be directly linked to stress, obesity and social isolation. Add in the unpredictability of travel times and you end up with more missed dinners, less time with kids and birthdays and anniversaries celebrated by text.

The car might be, by far, the most convenient form of transport but it's certainly not the fastest and some commuters are shaving substantial time of their commute by swapping the car for a bike and train.

Paul Nolan travels 48km from his home in rural Galway, to his job in University Hospital Galway. A round trip that could take more than 90 minutes by car is now a journey that door-to-door takes just over an hour.

"I typically leave the house between 7:35 and 7:45am, I then cycle the 8km to Woodlawn train station, catch the train to Galway. I bring the bike on the train and cycle up to the hospital where I arrive at 8:45. In the brighter evenings, I sometimes cycle all the way in or home.

"What makes it sustainable for me is the health benefits" he explains. "the biggest benefit has been increasing my fitness, the enjoyment of the cycle on country roads, helping me to maintain, not an ideal weight, but a better weight."

Danny Moriarty also swapped his car for a bike but, unlike Paul, frustration with traffic congestion was the initial catalyst for change. In 2013 when the tax and insurance expired on the family car, he decided to see if the family could survive with just one car.

"My wife cycles a short distance to work in a local hospital and the kids cycle one mile to school and have done so since starting school. I cycle the 15km trip from Drumcondra to work in Leopardstown everyday in about 45 mins".

But cycling is not without its challenges and there can be dangers lurking around every junction.

"On my commute I pass spots where two cyclists were killed in recent years.  Dublin City Council installed safety measures preventing sharp left turns at these junctions in the aftermath of the tragedies but I despair at how little of the transport budget is spent on sustainable infrastructure and that it took fatalities to install basic infrastructure".

Road safety needs to improve if we are to encourage more people to ditch the car and walk or cycle as an alternative. Key also to making the switch from car to bike, is a sympathetic employer providing secure cycle storage, changing rooms, showers etc which can be a big boost to cycling.

What Danny would like to see on the GE2020 party manifestos is "Achievable and Realistic Transport Goals - not grandiose stuff like the Metro North but simple stuff like support for the Liffey Cycle Route that has been nearly 10 years in the offing or expansion of the highly successful Dublin Bike Scheme".

What unites these four diverse commuters is that their quality of life could be vastly improved with proper investment in public transport and cycling infrastructure. At next Saturday's polling booths the floating voter may well be swayed by the party deemed most likely to make a meaningful difference to their commuting hell.

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