When the pandemic first sent office workers home, I embraced the extra hour and a half I gained with the absence of commuting. I made myself a decent breakfast, and I took advantage of an evening run while the sun was still shining. But as weeks of remote working turned into months, I'd wake up later, leaving myself sometimes just 15 minutes to get ready, and by evening, the line between work and leisure was all but a blur.
I’m fortunate to have had the option to work from home. But some days, I miss that clear separation provided by my 45-minute commutes.
The outlook for mass commuting, even after the distribution of a vaccine, is still up in the air. Transit systems currently face severe cuts, and may not easily return to their pre-pandemic days, even with $14 billion in aid from the most recent stimulus package. Prospects for transit funding may improve with a Democratic majority in the Senate. But logistics aside, companies and employees that have now adapted to remote work may not be able to so easily reverse that cultural force — and they may not want to.
My commute isn't as long as that of my colleague David Dudley, who recently reflected on his experience as a “mega commuter” traveling from Baltimore to Washington, D.C. via train, then metrorail, then bike — a journey that consumed some two hours each way. Still, a lot can happen in the 45 minutes I spent traveling by bus and foot to and from downtown D.C. I’d study the various shapes, sizes and architecture of the houses the bus passed by as it barreled down 16th Street toward the grandest residence in the city: the White House. Some days, you meet interesting or kind fellow passengers. I am still thankful for a kind elderly woman who woke me up at my bus stop after I dozed off because she "had a feeling" that was where I was supposed to get off. And if nothing else, that bus ride was a great opportunity to catch up on sleep.
There’s no indication that commuting will become a relic of the pre-pandemic world. But its return may look very different, as Dudley writes:
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