A major new study claims the average journey by train or bus is more stressful than being a fighter pilot in combat, or a police officer in a riot. Commuters’ heart rates reached more than double the normal resting heartbeat of a healthy young person. Lead researcher Dr David Lewis warns that commuters could suffer serious heart problems. “The levels experienced by commuters were higher. It’s pretty shocking. We found spikes in the heart rate that corresponded with changing trains. The key for commuters is the feeling they are not in control, this is what makes them lose their temper. The phenomenon of “commuter amnesia” discovered by the study, conducted on behalf of Hewlett-Packard, was found by studying volunteers’ brain patterns. Dr Lewis said: “It’s a form of self-hypnosis. It’s a defense mechanism for the brain, and it’s very effective.” And this is in London, where the transit system is often regarded as one of the world’s best. People who get frustrated with driving often idealize transit. They think about how great it will be to read a book on a train, but they don’t think about other aspects like transfers and waiting time. The “loss of control” aspect of it is right on the mark. This was at the core of my frustrations while I was a NYC transit commuter. Also, you might want to check out this Privatization Watch interview (pdf file page 2) in which a woman who has commuted by bus in LA for 30 years explains how her commute colors her entire day.
Ted Balaker is an award-winning filmmaker, journalist, and founding partner of Korchula Productions, a film and new media production company devoted to making important ideas entertaining.