Friday, January 4, 2008

The Less Stress Express

By Karl Vilacoba

I’m seeing more grays than I’d care to when I look in the mirror lately, but I read something the other day that reminded me it could be worse.

A recent study suggests that commuters who take the train to work were less stressed by their trip than those who drove. According to “Leave the Driving to Them: Comparing Stress of Car and Train Commuters,” motorists reported significantly higher levels of stress, more negative moods and indicated their trip took more effort and was far less predictable compared to rail riders.

I can certainly relate to this study. When I joined the magazine a few months ago, I had a decision to make: To drive or not to drive. I, too, would be choosing between the NJ Transit rails or the highways. Even my commute time was the same as the average for people in the study, roughly 75 minutes.

I decided to base my decision on a drive I took to our Newark offices for an interview. The meeting was set for 9 a.m., so it would serve as a pretty good indicator for the rush hour traffic I’d face each morning behind the wheel.

On my way in, I got confused by the signs in a construction area and missed my exit. I allowed myself about a half-hour extra to be on the safe side, but I watched in panic as the minutes ticked off on my dashboard clock while I desperately sought a way to turn around in the glorified parking lot that was Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard gridlock traffic. I made the embarrassing call to let my future supervisor know I was running late.

I explained what a disaster Route 280 was to a current co-worker who sat in on that meeting, and he asked with puzzlement why I would ever take that road. I told him that’s what the directions on the Web site said to do. “They do?” he said with a chuckle. “Oops.” Thanks, partner!

If it were purely a matter of speed, I would drive. It would save time, although not enough to be a deal-breaker. If it were purely a matter of money, I probably would save by getting a parking pass and driving, although parking garage fees, tolls, high gas prices and the attrition on my car all add up. But there’s something to be said for living without the fear of getting in a high-speed crash, or the relatively few surprises of a train ride. At the end of the day, it’s a quality of life decision, and I devised a checklist about my drive to help myself make it.

Congestion? Check. Expensive? Check. Stressful? Check. Check. Check. … So where can I get my monthly pass?

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