Despite supposed improvements in transport networks and the increasing number of telecommuters, the vast majority of workers still spend many hours a week repetitively traveling to and from work five days a week. Depending on your work ethic and form of transport you might use this time to simply catch up on sleep, read your emails, or get some exercise.
Next time you’re moaning about the state of the Northern line on the London Underground, or if you’re one of the people who suffer the sixty seven hours per year the average Washington commuter spends in transit, take a moment to be thankful that your journey probably doesn’t involved crossing a 1,200 drop, or require specialist safety training to ensure that you can escape from a sinking helicopter.
Here we’ve compiled some of the most arduous and dangerous commutes from around the globe, including some of the most advanced forms of transport to the surprisingly basic, which should put your boring daily journey into perspective.
10. Transmission Tower Climber
A normal commute for a transmission tower worker is around 1,700 feet. These labourers work at great heights to replace small bits of wiring, bulbs, or antenna at the top of radio masts like the kind AT&T uses. An average wage would be between $40-60,000, which isn’t much when you consider that many of these workers free-climb at the highest points to avoid being slowed down by harnesses. It is by all accounts a highly dangerous job, with more fatalities per 100,000 workers than any other form of employment in the U.S.
9. Transcontinental Commuters
Although the chances of falling to your death from an American Airlines flight from LAX to JFK are slim, when you consider the distances involved with this commute (which a shocking number of businessmen engage in), it does seem pretty extreme, even if the average outcome is just slight jet-lag.
To give this journey a little perspective, if you were travelling by horse in the time of the expansion westward, you’d be on horse, and traveling around 25-30 miles in a day, putting the 2,800 miles from Los Angeles to New York at around 90 days. If you were to make the trip by train at around the time of the war you’d be hitting speeds of about 80 mph, which brings the journey time to just a few days. In these days America’s business elite think very little of jumping on a plane home for a few nights, and with a flight time of under six hours this is completely feasible. Just imagine trying to explain this mentality to your average pioneer.
8. Tokyo Subway
Many people know about the famous white gloved platform attendees whose job it is to push commuters onto the Japanese subway each day, packing the suited men and women in the trains which serve the world’s largest metropolitan area (which has a population of over 35 million people).
Incredibly, Shinjuku Station – one of Tokyo’s major railway stations – deposits almost a million passengers each morning and returns them to the suburbs every evening. One of the darker sides of this commute is the efficiency with which the railway company can clean up the jinshin jiko (‘human body accidents’) i.e. the commuters who for whatever reason decide to commit suicide on the tracks. Railway staff can remove a body and have the train running in 15 minutes, and the deceased family often has to pay up for $30,000 by way of compensation.
7. Los Pinos Zip Wire, Colombia
The eight school children who were commuting the distance from their village of Los Pinos to their school across the Rio Negro in 2010 had an easy decision to make each morning: trek for 2 hours down into the valley, or take a zip wire for just a minute.
Its hard to imagine the school child who would have to consider this choice for very long, but when you look at the the logistics of the situation you might think twice about trying it yourself. Each child takes their own wooden stick to use as a brake on the steel cable, and they can reach speeds of up for 60mph across the 1,200m drop.
6. Himalayas Mountain Rescue
Since 2010 a partnership between the Swiss firm Air Zermatt and the Nepalese helicopter company Fishtail. they’ve provided a high altitude Himalayan rescue service. It is the first of its kind, and is capable of operating rescue attempts up to 7,000 feet within hours of a distress call. In the past the lack of skilled pilots and modern aircrafts meant that the crafts were forced to land or hover rather than use the ‘long-line’ technique, which uses a rescuer attached to a cable to pluck the injured party from the mountain.
Even with the Swiss expertise this work is extremely complicated, as the thinness of the air means that the helicopters require delicate manoeuvring, and at the greater heights can often only carry a single passenger at a time.
5. Oil Rig
There are hundreds of drilling rigs off the coast of the UK, with thousands of employees working round the clock to ensure a continuous supply of oil and gas. Depending on the work some employees might fly in for a few days, whilst some might stay for several weeks at a time and take two weeks off.
A normal commute would include an hour long helicopter ride, but before you take the trip you’ll have to go through safety training which will teach you how to unbuckle yourself from your seat whilst the helicopter is submerged. There have been a number of catastrophes as a result of helicopters ferrying workers to and from rigs; one of the worst events occurred in 1986 when a chinook crashed into a north sea platform, killing 45 people.
4. McMurdo Station
The McMurdo Antarctica station is the largest of the research centres on the icy continent. During the summer it can support over 1,200 workers, though this drops dramatically during the winter when flights are almost impossible. Once a year the US coast guard breaks a path in the ice to allow a sea lift of 8 million gallons of fuel and 11 million pounds of of supplies and equipment.
Commuters arrive into one of the three runways, or via the helipad, and employment ranges from the scientific (with 10,859 exploratory dives having been conducted under the ice from 1989 to 2006) to the mundane, with the base requiring a vast team of mechanics, cooks, and other general staff.
3. Pearl Divers
In Japan and the Persian Gulf one of the oldest sources of income is that of pearl diving. In the early twentieth century the techniques used for the collection of pearls were essentially the same as descriptions of the trade from the 14th century. These days the traditional methods have been replaced by cultured pearl farms which produce over a billion pearls a year by implanting a tiny particle within the oyster.
Before this method was popularised a traditional pearl diver had a tough job: 30 times a day a diver would be expected to dive 40 feet (and sometimes up to 125 feet in Japan) to collect as many shells as possible whilst holding their breath for 90 seconds. As the oysters were all collected together, there is no way of knowing whose shell contained the pearl, so all profits were shared.
2. War Reporter
Each of the commutes on this list is trying or dangerous in some way, but only the war correspondent actively travels to areas of the world where being shot at is part of the job. Even in an age of smartphones and Twitter the world’s media still requires expert reporters and photographers on the ground in the various conflict zones scattered across the planet. At the time of writing several of the 16 Al Jazeera journalists imprisoned by Egypt’s current regime have been on hunger strike for over one hundreds days, and despite international protest the release of the reporters seems unlikely.
1. The International Space Station
For the last fourteen years there have been people living and working 220 miles above the surface of the earth on the International Space Station. Fewer than 200 people have experienced the commute to and from one of humanity’s greatest collaborative achievements.
When you’re next sitting on the bus to work or school take a moment to think about a situation in which your commute involved chasing down a 450 tonne workplace which is travelling at 17,500mph at a height thirty times the cruising height of a jet. A transcontinental commute might seem wasteful, but when compared to the 900 tonnes of solid rocket fuel and half a million gallons of liquid oxygen and liquid hydrogen that are burnt in the main engine of a shuttle, that flight from LA to New York is just a drop in the (ever rising) ocean.