Ottawa·Nowhere Fast

5 tips for hacking your commute

As part of CBC Ottawa's commuting series Nowhere Fast, we asked people who spend irksomely long hours trying to get around this city how they put all that travel time to good use.

Those long trips might feel unending, but they don't have to

Second-year University of Ottawa student Juliana Sotomayor sometimes rides between five and seven buses a day. She has a favourite app to keep track of all those routes. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Commutes in Ottawa are getting longer — at least, if you drive to work — but they don't have to feel interminable.

As part of our commuting series Nowhere Fast, we asked people who spend irksomely long hours trying to get around this city how they put all that travel time to good use.

We heard a few common refrains: get some work done, take a nap (drivers, you should probably skip that one), or lose yourself in an absorbing podcast.

Here are five more ideas to help you preserve your sanity when you're staring down hours on the road.

Get smart

When Will Monterroza was suddenly saddled with a lengthy commute from Hawkesbury, Ont., to Kanata, he decided to use that time to learn a new language.

"Hawkesbury is a very Francophone area, so it just made sense to improve my French," he says.

Monterroza completed French-language audio courses and honed his skills listening to French radio and a French version of the Bible from beginning to end.

It could all prove useful: a new role at work means Monterroza is now facing a slightly shorter commute to the west end of Montreal.

Carol Manson says her stop-and-go commute from Finch, Ont., to the south end of Ottawa gives her time to do a few exercises. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Stay in shape

Carol Manson's daily commute requires her to drive 65 kilometres from the town of Finch, Ont., to her job in Ottawa's south end.

The closer she gets to work, the worse the traffic becomes, but at least those slowdowns give her time to get in a quick workout.

"I've been working on my abs," she says. "You hold your abs in, count to 20, breathe, let them out, relax. You know, do a few repetitions like that. It's starting to work a little."

Exercising while stuck in traffic might not be a bad idea: studies have found remaining stationary behind the wheel of a car for long periods can place drivers at higher risk of obesity and high blood pressure.

Manson also grips the steering wheel with both hands and pushes out — sort of an isometric exercise — and works her glutes the same way she does her abdomen.

Having a standard transmission rather than automatic also keeps Manson moving, even when traffic isn't.

"[My car] isn't the best in traffic, especially when you're in stop-and-go," Manson says. "So I get a lot of exercise just [with] the clutch and the stick shift."

Juliana Sotomayor uses the Transit app to show her the best way to get from her home in Blackburn Hamlet to campus, as well as to her job in Barrhaven. (Trevor Pritchard/CBC)

Work that app

Given how often Juliana Sotomayor rides the bus, it's no surprise she's got a favourite app for managing her trips.

​On her busiest days, the 19-year-old takes between five and seven buses — first from her home in Blackburn Hamlet to her job in Barrhaven, then to afternoon classes at the University of Ottawa, and finally home again.

She tries to bring some efficiency to all those trips by relying on an app called Transit that provides real-time information about city bus routes.

If her 95 bus to Barrhaven is running behind, for example, she'll use the app to catch an express bus to another station — and hope the right bus is waiting when she arrives.

Bus riders can also use OC Transpo's official app to track the service, and there are countless online tools for drivers, too, like Waze and Google Maps.

For cyclists, Bike Ottawa has compiled various maps, including a crowdsourced winter map that shows which routes have been cleared of snow.

So does Sotomayor's app-powered route switching actually make her commute quicker? 

"Probably not," she says. "There's always the hope. But [at least] it keeps me entertained."

Amanda Richard, left, and Audrey Carignan, right, write messages to other drivers (and sometimes to public broadcasters) to keep themselves amused during their commute. (Submitted)

Make it interactive

When Audrey Carignan and Amanda Richard get bored, they turn to their trusty whiteboard.

The pair carpool to Ottawa each day from Kemptville, Ont., and for the past month or so they've been scrawling messages on the board and holding them up to drivers who — for whatever reason — capture their attention.

"We do send messages to other people who are picking their nose or talking on their cellphones ... or more happier messages, like, 'Finally, it's Friday!'" says Richard.

"We did see a guy with a big spoiler on his car [once] so we wrote, 'Spoiler alert!' And we did kind of slow down a little bit so he could see the message. And he thoroughly enjoyed it.

"You might as well make the best of it, if you're going to spend the majority of your time in the car."

Rhonda Harper commutes from her home in Cornwall, Ont., to her job in Ottawa, and says you just have to approach the long drive with the understanding that it won't always go according to plan. (Matthew Kupfer/CBC)

Let go

No, not the steering wheel, but the sense you can control everything.

At least, that's Rhonda Harper's philosophy. 

Harper was born and raised in Cornwall, Ont., and had worked in the eastern Ontario city until a few years ago when her job was relocated to Ottawa.

Initially, the commute felt overwhelming. Eventually, however, she found a few coworkers to share not only the drive but also the mental pressures that come with it.

"There are days it will take you two-and-a-half hours to get in, and you have to be able to be OK with that," she said.

"You have to have a sense of letting go of what you can't control."

What's your hack for getting through the daily commute? If you've got one, send us an email.

With files from Matthew Kupfer


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.