14 Jun 19
Believe us, we feel your pain.
Just try and remember that every day millions of pounds are being poured into research and development on how to make your commute a little less painful.
It might not be much comfort next time you’re stationary in traffic or wedged onto a train but, incrementally at least, things are changing. We now use cards and phones for quick, contactless payment on trains and buses. If we want to drive, we don’t need to own a car or book a taxi. Uber may have had its fair share of wrong turns, but it’s proven that people are willing to embrace different ways of moving from point A to point B. Now it says it’s working on flying cars that’ll be deployed in Dubai next year.
Don’t worry – we’re not going to start talking about flying cars. Let’s try and keep this realistic.
According to statistics put out by the TUC in November last year, the average rail commute in the UK takes an average of 2 hours and 11 minutes each day. Drivers spend 52 minutes on the road while cyclists spend, on average, 44 minutes in the saddle each day. Those lucky people that can walk to work will generally spend only 29 minutes a day on their commute.
London commuters making the walk to work every day (Getty Images)
Londoners take the longest to get to and from work, travelling for 1 hour and 21 minutes each day, which is 23 minutes longer than the average across the UK.
Phil Flaxton, the CEO of UK-based non-profit organisation Work Wise is hardly surprised by these statistics.
‘Long commutes have become a part of the UK’s working culture,’ he said. ‘But the excessive time spent commuting is one of the main factors contributing to work-life balance problems.
‘Not only is the time spent commuting an issue, the 9-to-5 culture with its peak travel times generates congestion. And the rush-hours on railways, underground and road networks increase stress for commuters.
‘The overall message for employers is that job satisfaction can be improved, and stress levels reduced if workers have opportunities to cut their commuting time. That could mean working from home occasionally or staggering their hours. It could also be good news for employee wellbeing and retention, with lower costs to businesses.’
There is some evidence to suggest that – slowly – employers are starting to recognise the benefits of flexible working. The TUC also reports that more than 1.5 million people in the UK now work from home – an increase of nearly 20% (241,000) in the last decade. Just to put that in context, it’s still only 0.5% of the total UK workforce.
‘Bookending the 9-5 as we journey into work and return home again, commuting has long played a huge part in the working day. But our commutes don’t just add more hours to our days. A frustrating morning commute can set the tone for the day, and many employees miss the opportunity to get deep work done in the morning quiet as they travel into the office first thing,’ Howard Lewis, the Surface Business Group Lead at Microsoft told Metro.
‘As the way we work continues to evolve, the office is no longer the only place where work gets done. With tasks that don’t need to be completed from a specific place and technology enabling us to collaborate with colleagues wherever we are, today’s employees are embracing new approaches to work – from freelancing to taking on side-projects, and simply setting our work schedules around personal commitments.
‘What this means is less people needing to travel into the same part of the city for the same time each day. Imagine a world where we can step onto the 8am train and it’s not standing room only?’
But even with employers willing to be flexible, how can technology step in and make the journey less hellish?
Next month, TfL is launching a WiFi tracking system on the Tube that will use the existing wifi beacons installed in 260 London Underground stations to keep a log of passengers who pass through. It will pick up the unique identifying number – known as a “MAC” address – of each passenger’s mobile phone, whether or not they’re connected to TfL’s WiFi network.
At the moment, all TfL knows about us is the stations that we tap into and tap out of. With the WiFi data, TfL can learn a whole lot more. For example, a month long trial of the technology in late 2016 revealed that it was possible to use WiFi data to detect which routes passengers chose to take between two points. For example, of the 18 different routes people took between Kings Cross and Waterloo, WiFI data tells us that 32% take the Victoria line to Oxford Circus, and then change to the Bakerloo, and 26.7% change at Green Park instead and switch to the Jubilee instead.
It also works inside of stations too, and can capture data on how many people are changing trains without touching in or out, which could reveal something closer to the true number of people having to endure Oxford Circus at 8:30am.
The potential benefits of such technology are enormous: Wifi data could help TfL understand how we *actually* move around the Tube network, and it could help inform planning when lines go wrong, so TfL can better predict which alternative routes are about to be hit by a tonne of extra passengers.
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There’s technological disruption happening above ground as well. Dockless electric bikes (e-bikes) have become a feature of UK cities following their launch in the US. Once signed up, users can unlock the bike for £1 using an app on their phone and ride around for 15p per minute. Because the bikes are electrically powered, there’s no need to get sweaty while riding – which makes them perfect for commuting. The bikes can be parked anywhere, and are routinely charged up ready for the next passenger.
‘London is now the sixth most congested city in the world and poor air quality is already linked to more than 9,000 premature deaths each year, according to a study by King’s College. We need new ways to reduce pollution, ease congestion and reduce the strain of the daily commute – and we need them fast,’ explained Jaanaki Momaya, the general manager of Lime, which has rolled out dockless e-bikes across the UK capital.
‘Alongside a greater use of public transport, electric bikes, micro-mobility options like e-scooters, and shared mobility schemes can all provide part of the solution. They’re emission free, require no new infrastructure and allow commuters to get outside during their journey,’ he told Metro.
‘Dockless bike schemes are designed to complement the existing public transport network. Already, thousands of Londoners use these types of schemes as their last mile solutions; including travelling from home to the station, and from the station to work. They’re also widely used by people making shorter commutes, or when travelling to meetings or events.’
Lime dockless ebikes are now a common sight around London (Lime)
‘Shared dockless electric bike schemes have also widened the range of people who regularly use a bike on their daily commute. No longer do commuters need to have somewhere to store a bike or change clothes in the office to be able to cycle to work. With e-bikes, battery assisted pedalling means many more people can use this option. Should e-scooters become common on UK roads and cycle lanes in the future – as they will shortly in Germany – then even more people will be able to enjoy this type of zero-emission commute.’
As per EU law (which is harmonised with our own UK road laws) the electric motor on an e-bike has to be capped at 15.5mph and will only kick in when you start pedaling. Technically speaking, you’re riding an ‘electrically assisted pedal cycle’ (EAPC) for which you don’t need a licence or have to pay road tax. So it does works out cheaper as well.
Anyone who’s been on a bike knows that 15.5mph isn’t really that fast, but if you’re talking about a commute rather than a cross-country travelogue, it’s perfectly sufficient.
The health and mental benefits of cycling for your commute have been well publicised (Metro has written about it plenty of times) but what needs to be done to make it a more realistic option for more people?
‘To make this possible, businesses and government must continue to invest in new forms of sustainable travel,’ Momaya said.
‘This includes dockless e-bike companies continuing to invest in London, and the Mayor continuing to transform London’s streets through the expansion of the cycle superhighway network.
‘If we do this, dockless services can help address the challenges of congestion and commuting capacity for many years to come – helping Londoners to reduce pollution and cut their carbon footprint. Alongside bold initiatives like the Mayor’s Ultra Low Emission Zone, this will put London firmly on the (cycle) path to becoming a more sustainable City of the future and can help the capital lead the way for the UK’s target of zero emissions by 2050.’
Okay, chalk one up for the cycle lanes. But even if this comes to fruition, not everyone is able to hop on a bike. Maybe you’ve got too much equipment, or you need to drop the kids off at school first, or you’ve got a disability that prevents cycling.
Thankfully, there are other options that are being developed. Car companies are focused on small, electrically-powered mobility vehicles that could improve your commute and reduce the reliance on your own vehicle.
For example, Citroën has developed a concept car called the Ami One. It’s a small, boxy contraption that could be distributed through cities (and, potentially, countries) for easy, emission-free transport.
The French car company explains it thus: ‘Ami One Concept is 100% electric and charges easily in two hours. It reaches a top speed of 30mph without emitting CO2 and has a range of 60 miles making it perfect for urban journeys’. That speed-limiting bit is so it could be deployed in countries where it could be driven by young people under the age of 17 without a driving licence.
The vehicle is just a concept at the moment, but these kinds of cars may come to fruition as an extension of the e-bike rental schemes mentioned above.
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‘Shared services and a move towards an on-demand model will change the way we design cars and provide mobility solutions to our customers. Ami One is a clear demonstration of that,’ Karl Howkins, the managing director of Citroën UK, told Metro.co.uk.
‘Tomorrow our customers will want a more informal way of accessing our products – through short term rental and leasing. They will demand much greater flexibility.
‘Customers may want to access a car for five minutes, five hours or five days – or as they need it. They will probably want that level of choice. This ‘usership’ model, and the kind of urban mobility solutions needed to service those needs, will also have a major impact on our cities; it will free up car parking, which can be turned over to green spaces; it will ease congestion as traffic flow improves; above all, there will be a calmer, more relaxed urban mobility experience everyone to enjoy.’
Vehicles aside, all our other tech wants to try and help our commute as well. You can ask Alexa about your journey and she’ll let you know of any last-minute changes.
Apps like Waze and CityMapper will give you crowdsourced updates if there’s been a traffic accident or road closure that might affect your journey.
All of human ingenuity is going towards creating technology that can pre-warn us about routes, times and cancellations. And when that doesn’t work, the likes of Lime and Citroën are trying to step in with alternative solutions to help things. Nobody wants to suffer a terrible commute day after day, which is why employees, companies and governments all have a vested interest in making things better. Commuting is miserable right now – but the future will change that.
Then again, you could argue the only good future commute is no commute at all.
What have been some of your worst commuting experiences? Share your thoughts in the comments box below.
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