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Study: Commuting by Rail Means Less Stress Than Driving


June 26, 2006


Rail commuters in northern New Jersey who work in New York City show significantly lower levels of stress than their counterparts who drive to work, according to a recently released study.

The results show significantly higher levels of reported stress for the commuters who drive compared with the rail passengers, as well as a more negative mood, the sense that the trip required significantly more effort, and a feeling that the trip was much less predictable than the train trip. Perceived levels of control and senses of well-being showed no differences between the two sectors.

The study was conducted by Richard Wener, associate professor of psychology at Polytechnic University in Brooklyn, N.Y.; Gary W. Evans, professor of design and environmental analysis and of human development at Cornell University; and Jerome Lutin, senior director, statewide and regional planning, with New Jersey Transit Corporation in Newark.

The study compares commuters from the identified geographic area and from similar socioeconomic backgrounds. The average duration of their commute to work is 75 minutes.

Researchers recruited drivers by leaving flyers on parked cars, through newspaper and radio ads, and advertising on the EZ Pass web site. Rail commuters responded to flyers distributed at terminals. Participants were offered an incentive that equaled a significant portion of their commuting costs for one month: $100 cash for car commuters, a monthly ticket for rail passengers.

The survey process involved several forms rating perceived stress, effort, and mood, to be completed by the commuters at the end of their commute to work.

A subsequent examination of the data that incorporated effort as a variable saw the elimination of the significant effects of commuting mode on each measure of stress. "This suggests that one reason why car commuting is more stressful than train commuting is because it takes more effort," the report states.

The researchers suggested that experiencing stress on a regular basis may lead to physiological, psychological, and health consequences.

"For many commuters, mode choice is related to economic and infrastructure conditions created by planning, policy, and funding decisions. This study suggests that one element that might be taken into account in making these decisions is the impact of commuting mode on stress," the report says.

The report also shows that an uninterrupted commuter rail trip leads to less stress than if the passenger has to change trains.

A 2003 study of NJ Transit's Midtown Direct service, which allows commuters to travel directly into Penn Station New York without the previously required transfer at Hoboken, N.J., demonstrated reduced levels of stress among commuters who switched to the new "one-seat ride." A 2005 study of a second new NJ Transit one-seat service, Montclair Direct, reported lessened stress levels for users of the new service, along with a reduced level of job strain.

The report is included on the CD-ROM of Proceedings of APTA's 2006 Rail Conference, provided free to conference participants. The proceedings are available to APTA members for $30 and non-members for $60 from APTA's Information Center by contacting APTA's Rose Gandee at telephone (202) 496-4889 or by e-mail at <>, or from the online bookstore at <>.

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