A year without a commute for many in the Philadelphia region - The Philadelphia Inquirer

by Patricia Madej

There’s been so much nostalgia for things lost in 2020, a year filled with enough pain and heartache to fill a few lifetimes.

To ease the agony, there’s yearning for the simple things: the small talk we once rolled our eyes over, the smell of last night’s dinner lingering in a friend’s house, the pre-rehearsed hoots and hollers for an encore performance already planned.

Some of those privileged enough to be able to telecommute during the COVID-19 pandemic miss treasured parts of their old ways of getting to work: sunrises over the Delaware River, bike rides with a backdrop of Philadelphia’s skyline, or designated time with a favorite podcast or audiobook. Essential workers, of course, have not had the option to get sentimental.

“It was my chance to see how the city truly breathes during the morning,” William Clark, 25, said of his mile-long walk to his job in Center City. That half-hour was his “source of solitude,” he said.

Others are relishing their extra time. They’re learning languages, saving money, finding more opportunities to exercise, read, and cook, and are improving relationships with partners, children, and roommates. One reader told The Inquirer he lost 40 pounds by turning his nearly hour-long commute into workout time. Another got rid of his car — “doesn’t make sense to pay for insurance on something that’s collecting dust,” he said.

Some, however, find themselves in unhealthy patterns of limited movement and longer work hours, unable to refocus the blurred lines around professional and home lives. Some parents can’t find a replacement for those few moments alone in a bus, train, or car.

When considering how they’ll commute in the future, workers will weigh those pros and cons and ask themselves a critical question: Is it worth it?

The decisions they’ll make — whether it’s five days in an office, never stepping in their workplaces again, or something in the middle — will have implications for transportation funding, equity, pollution, and congestion. Ripple effects will likely impact retail, restaurants, and real estate.

“Part of me would really like to just continue to work from home,” said Rebecca Clemmer, 60, of Ridley Park, who before the pandemic commuted about 40 minutes to King of Prussia each way. “Part of me misses [the] hustle and bustle of an office, and the resources of having the people around you that you need to interact with. I don’t know if that’s ever going to come back the way it used to be.”

Dozens of commuters shared insights with The Inquirer about life without travel bookending the start and stop to their day. Here’s what they said.

How Philadelphians Traveled to Work

In 2019, only 5% of workers 16 and over worked from home. Out of a total of 711,264 workers in Philadelphia over 50% or 402,688 were recorded as having traveled to work via a car, truck, or van.

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