Commuters' University: On-The-Road Learning

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about nine out of 10 workers drive to work. An additional 5% of workers take public transportation, and about 2.5% walk. Of those that drive, about three out of four drive alone. The Census Bureau also estimated the average commute per worker (in 2005) at 24 minutes, which translates to about 100 hours of work-related commuting per year.

The Costs of Driving
Those 100 hours of driving to work (and "fighting" traffic) represent more than two weeks of vacation. Given worsening traffic conditions in major metropolitan areas, commute times appear to become exacerbated over the years.

Using a commuter calculator, based on a 10-mile (one-way) drive every weekday, if gas is at $2.30 per gallon and at an 86-cent per mile driver's direct cost (maintenance, parking) the driver can expect to pay an annual driving cost of nearly $6,700.

In terms of opportunity costs, drivers can spend 100 hours of unproductive time if they are not careful of how they manage their commute. Assuming an hourly rate of $25, those 100 hours represent $2,500 in potential lost productivity per year. Over a 10-year period, that translates to $25,000 in potential lost productivity. (To learn more, see our Economics Tutorial.)

Granted, we could use somewhat more conservative numbers as drivers these days use their cellphones in order to conduct a variety of transactions and conversations. Still, the costs add up. Direct costs and opportunity costs amount to several thousand dollars per year. Therefore, it behooves business professionals to attend "Commuters' University" in order to extract benefit without committing any additional time to the learning process.

Using Commute Time to Earn a "Virtual Degree"
Business, accounting and finance professionals can use their commute time in order to enhance their skills. Workers can listen to a variety of business, leadership and management audiobooks that can improve work performance, while investors can learn certain insights by listening to finance, economics and investing audiobooks. (For more, see You Don't Know Jack Welch.)


  1. Commuters can "read" several dozen books in their field per year, without committing additional time to do it. Assuming 100 hours of commute per year, and further assuming 5 hours as the average length of an audiobook, it's possible to absorb 20 additional books annually. Most would agree that a professional within a certain function (say finance), who has read 200 books (which is essentially a small library) in his or her field, is a qualified expert in his or her chosen profession.
  2. Leveraging the expertise and business wisdom of the likes of Jack Welch, Donald Trump and other business gurus can lead to much higher performance at work within a short period. New insights and knowledge can lead not only to improved professional decisions, but potentially higher quality decision-making in one's personal life.
  3. Elevated knowledge can not only bring tangible benefits (salary increases, bonuses, promotions, esteem from colleagues), but can also serve to prevent disadvantages in the workplace, heartache and hard lessons. Peers and colleagues who have significantly less commuting time, who listen to audiobooks, or who take public transportation and can access wireless signals for their laptops (and therefore, do work) can enjoy productivity advantages over passive commuters.

Most U.S. universities require 50 classes in order to earn a bachelor's degree. Assuming each college course requires students to read four books over an entire semester, a commuter who listens to 200 audiobooks over a 10-year period will have taken in roughly the same amount of material and knowledge equivalent to a bachelor's degree - without committing additional time. Would it be reasonable to assume that a worker who periodically "earns degrees" would have more salary increases, promotions, and recognition over the course of an entire career? Promotions and additional exposure can provide a variety of other opportunities to graduates of "CommutersUniversity." (For more, see Invest In Yourself With A College Education.)

The Bottom Line
Business professionals can go beyond work-related commuting pro-activity. Professionals can listen to business audiobooks while undergoing a variety of activities including personal commutes, fitness routines at the gym, doing the laundry or washing dishes, which can add that much more knowledge base and enhancement to one's career. (For more, see Commute Smart: Save time, Money And The Earth and Extreme Commuting: Is It For You?.)