You may want to sit down before reading this article. I’m about to drop a truth bomb that may knock you off your feet. Brace yourself.
The results of the 2011 National Household Survey are in. We’re talking earth-shattering news. We’re talking Sir Alexander Fleming discovers penicillin, the earth’s not flat, Milli Vanilli were lip-synching-scale epiphanies.
Most Canadians drive to work.
Is your mind totally blown yet? No?
Well guess what? Most of them do it alone.
That’s right. The government has spent untold millions on a voluntary, statistically suspect survey (which replaced the old compulsory long-form national census) in order to tell us something that anyone could learn simply by opening their eyes and watching traffic go by.
According to the survey, 15.4 million Canadians commute to work and, of those, four out of five drive a car. Most of these drivers do so alone. Only 12 per cent take public transit (where they are definitely not alone).
Experts and commentators are puzzled. What could possibly be driving this behaviour? Immediately they began diving into the nooks and crannies of commuting and automobile transit. Why would people voluntarily sit stuck in traffic in isolation? Why? Why? Why? Don’t they know that it – sin of all sins – hurts the economy! It costs billions.
I’m not a statistician, I’m not a researcher, I’m not a psychologist, I’m a newspaper columnist (which means most people would not consider me capable of doing anything worthwhile), but I have a theory as to why 83 per cent of drivers head to work solo. People commute on their lonesome because being around most people, what experts might call “accompanying them,” sucks.
Think about it. Can you think of three people with whom you’d want to spend five hours a week stuck commuting in a car? Even your dream passengers would tire you. After two weeks of commuting with movie star George Clooney, you’d go from cooing over him to telling him how disappointed you were by Leatherheads.
People drive alone because solitude is now a coveted and scarce commodity.
We’re a connected society. There was a time you could go for a walk and the only way someone could interrupt was if they bumped into you on the street. Hey kids, everybody gather around while Grandpa Clark tells you how, back in the good old days, you used to go for a walk in order to clear your head. Those days are long gone. Now we’re all connected. People walk around this magnificent planet, heads bowed, eyes glued to their dwarf screens. We’re on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to work, to family, to friends. They can get to you at any time and any place.
Driving is one of the few activities left when a person is allowed to eschew connectivity. People play around on their phones and iPads when driving, but they’re not supposed to. When someone calls you on the phone while you’re driving, you can ignore the call. Or you can answer it and say, “I can’t talk now – I’m driving.” And there’s nothing they can do. Why would you want to spoil that by having somebody in the car with you?
That’s the shameful secret.
Commuters whine and whinge about how dreadful their commutes are. Don’t believe them. They live for that drive. They fantasize about those empty hours cemented in traffic. It’s the only time most commuters get to themselves. When they are “stuck” in traffic all by themselves? They sit in air-conditioned comfort enjoying interiors that are nicer than the houses most people on earth live in. They drink coffee, listen to audio books, listen to podcasts, listen to music, listen to the radio, daydream, all the things they used to be able to do at home before it was overrun by electronic invaders probing every aspect of their existences. We used to call this kind of activity “Saturday morning,” now it’s your morning commute.
So don’t look for the car pool lane to fill up any time soon.
That’s all too bad because, as we all know, all these lone riders are bad for the environment, the economy and bad for our overall quality of life. Still it has its charms.
A book on Audible running through my phone,
A cup of Joe, a pain au chocolat and me alone
Beside me no one, isolation I avow Oh, commuting were Paradise now!
Follow Andrew Clark on Twitter: @aclarkcomedy