by Eric Jaffe who is a contributing writer to The Atlantic Cities and the author of The King’s Best Highway: The Lost History of the Boston Post Road, the Route That Made America.
If you’re evaluating a commute or an intercity work trip on travel time alone, the train doesn’t always look so great. Annoying as traffic can be, driving is usually quicker from home door to office desk. And while it can take a while to reach an airport, once you’re en route nothing travels faster than a plane.
But not all travel time is created equal. When it comes to productivity in transit, for instance, the train bests its alternatives beyond a doubt. You can’t even begin to consider working as you drive (that is, unless you’re part of an automated “road train”). And airplane travel, with its limited use of electronics and generally disruptive procedure, isn’t very conducive to prolonged focus.
The underrated importance of being able to work on the train is underscored in an upcoming report from the journal Transportation. In it Norweigian researchers Mattias Gripsrud and Randi Hjorthol of the Institute of Transport Economics, in Oslo, argue that how we use our travel time — as opposed to travel time alone — should be factored into any cost-benefit assessment of a transport mode.
Gripsrud and Hjorthol argue that especially today, with the ability to work from anywhere expanded by information and communication technology (I.C.T.), train travel in particular has shifted from “dead time” to productive time:
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