The Illawarra Mercury reporting team is bringing you a weekly series of behind-the-scenes stories, exclusive to our subscribers. Today, Kate McIlwain - who has written a report on the future of commuting, post pandemic - reveals what life without the Sydney-to-Illawarra work trip looks like for her family.
For the past 13 years, my partner, Dan, has been commuting from our home in Wollongong to Sydney.
Most recently, he'd get up around 5.30 and be on the 6.50 train from North Wollongong which would just get him to his office in Surry Hills in time for work at 8.30. We'd sometimes manage a coffee together before he left for the day, but our daughter would usually just be stirring as he drove to the station.
On the return journey, he'd aim to catch the 6pm train from Central, which would mean - most days, unless he ducked out early - he'd be home round 8pm, well after our toddler's bedtime. It obviously placed a huge burden on him and his time, as well as me because it meant - for most days of the week - I was juggling a full-time job and solo parenting.
We were used to it and had accepted that this was the price to pay for him having a fulfilling job with good career prospects (his industry barely exists in Wollongong), coupled with a good lifestyle for our kids and a home close to my job and our friends and family.
But then COVID changed everything.
Since mid-March, like lots of people, Dan and I have both been working from home. It's certainly had its challenges, especially at first, but I calculated the other day that not commuting has meant he's had an extra TWO WEEKS worth of "spare" time in the past five months.
He's also saved about $1200 in train fares, and heaps of money not buying coffee and lunch - but the financial savings pale in comparison to the benefits of time.
He now does the morning day care run so I can start work early (or just get ready without a small child trying to climb my legs). He's always done more housework than me, but now we can share the chores and spread them out through the week instead of cramming them into the one precious day a week when we both don't work.
Best of all, he sees our daughter every day and can spend time running around madly with her in the mornings, reading to her in the evenings and just generally getting to watch her grow and change daily, as little kids do.
As we now look forward to a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is over, it seems almost impossible that we will return to full-time work in an office environment. Certainly, Dan has proven that he can do his job as effectively (if not more so, because he is now able to dedicate more time to the work) without an hour-and-a-half trip each way. It also seems like his employer will be much more open to this type of flexible work down the track, which could have massive benefits for him, as well as me and our children.
I share this personal story because I know our experience, or variations on it, are being repeated in households around the Illawarra, where thousands of people who usually travel to Sydney to work have realised that they don't always need to.
So - in a feature this weekend, we've had a look at what life without a commute looks like for other Illawarra residents, and started to explore how this strange period could change things down the track.
With lots of future plans for the Illawarra focusing on our region's role as a Sydney commuter hub, this could have a massive effect on the shape of our city and it will be interesting to watch it play out in years to come.
You can read Kate's story on the future of commuting in the Illawarra in the weekend edition of the Mercury, or online as part of our subscriber-only content.Thank you for your support. If you enjoyed this, feel free to forward it to a friend.