What will commuting look like in a post-lockdown world? This week we have all heard the Government transition their COVID-19 strategy rhetoric from “stay at home” to “stay alert”, conferring more responsibility onto individuals to use their best judgement and common sense, prioritising the public health emergency over the economic crisis, in going about their lives and livelihoods.
Part of this shift in narrative is directed at encouraging businesses to find new and innovative ways to get their staff safely back to work where possible and for now, where working from home is an impossibility. It is also plain to see from the Chancellor’s statement around the extension of the furlough scheme to October that there is severe fiscal pressure building which will only be alleviated by getting UK plc up and running again.
Throughout the last month, the team at DASH have been taking the pulse of our customers, suppliers and wider network to understand the mood music around the what, when and how of returning to work and we will be sharing our learnings from this exercise over the next few weeks. To begin with, given the recent advice to avoid public transport where possible, we are talking through some practical considerations of physically returning to work and sharing some of the solutions we have heard.
As has been published in the Government advice, this should initially be limited to only those who cannot work from home, with then further considerations made for those in high-risk categories or those who need to self-isolate. From our internal and external conversations however, there are several other areas which need to be thought through and are not explicitly mentioned in the public guidance or do not feature prominently.
Perhaps the consideration affecting the highest number of people, is which of your workers have additional childcare commitments due to schools being closed meaning that they are unable to physically return to work? Or who is living with, or has care responsibilities for someone in a high-risk category meaning that returning to work may not be appropriate. If you are looking at adopting a reduced workforce to enable social distancing restrictions, it may also make sense to consider who is closest or most keen to return to work.
What we are hearing from all of this however is that those organisations which are the most communicative with their workforce and flexible in their thinking and approach to returning to work are likely to be those who get it right the quickest.
TFL have stated that to maintain social distancing, even at full operation, they will only be able to carry around 13-15 per cent of the normal number of passengers on the Tube and bus networks. This follows wider government advice to avoid public transport ‘wherever possible’ and will have broad implications for business lockdown exit strategies. Traditionally, commuting has been the responsibility of the employee however from our conversations with business leaders and return to work planning teams, a consensus is building across sectors that employers’ duty of care now extends to ensuring employees are able to travel to work safely.
Maintaining social distance will shift passengers away from public transport and other forms of mobility that confine you to enclosed spaces with strangers (carsharing, carpooling, shuttles etc). The interesting question is what will this modal shift look like? How will this affect commuting? Where will users migrate to?
In 2019, British drivers lost 115 hours due to traffic congestion. Existing infrastructure in urban areas would be unable to cope with any significant modal shift towards private cars. Employees that migrate to private vehicle commuting will likely waste more time and face higher costs. In cities, for the majority, private car ownership is prohibitively expensive when parking and congestion charges are taken into account. Increased car traffic would also see a swift reversal of the air quality improvements that were widely reported in the wake of lockdown – something society is keen to avoid.
Active transport modes such as walking and cycling offer healthier alternatives, providing a much-needed boost to both physical and mental health. Walking is expected to increase fivefold and as a result, TFL is actively modifying street layouts with it’s London Streetspace programme. Pavement extensions and newly created bus stops, like this one in Brixton, will help with social distancing. In many instances, owing to the distances involved, walking as a commute is either infeasible or one which takes more time than individuals are willing to commit regularly.
There has already been a huge demand for bicycles during the lockdown, with queues forming outside many bike shops across the country. TFL is expecting a possible tenfold increase in cycling within the London boroughs. Bicycles provide a cheap, fast and sustainable method of transport that should be encouraged. Safety has long been a major criticism and barrier for cycling in the UK. Increased investment in cycling infrastructure and pop up bike lanes will help encourage new cyclists by providing added protection. The UK should learn from ambitious street reallocation schemes from across Europe, most notably in Milan. Some employers’ may be reluctant to promote cycling because of concerns about liability issues. It is worth noting here that cycling is not an unduly risky activity. The risks that do exist come from hostile road conditions and not the employer. Cycling UK provides an excellent briefing on road safety. Cycling through the winter months may also prove a challenge, particularly in adverse weather conditions. It will be interesting to note how the adoption of cycling over this summer prevails through to 2021.
From the employers perspective, an infrastructural issue preventing the adoption of cycling as a viable commuting option is often a lack of changing, shower and locker facilities. Although one of the most efficient forms of transport, cycling to the office can leave employees in a sweaty, unhygienic state – not ideal for a professional setting. As more employees return to their place of work by adopting cycling, how will these facilities cope with the increase in demand? In many businesses, installing or expanding changing facilities will be unfeasible. Electrified pedal-assist bicycles (e-bikes) could offer a solution as they remove the need for hard physical effort. By assisting users when riding up hills or into the wind, e-bikes would allow commuters to arrive fresh at their place of work. There are two major limitations of e-bikes, they’re often heavy and expensive relative to non-electrified variants.
Parking expensive bicycles on the street, even with high-security locks, is a risk that many are unwilling to take. As a result of this, a second structural barrier is bike storage. This problem is again exacerbated in cities where space is at a premium and the risk of theft is higher. TFL produced this useful workplace cycle parking guide that offers advice on how to provide cycle parking. Storage is an area where folding bicycles, such as the famous Brompton, offer an elegant commuting solution.
DASH is a provider of flexible e-bike subscriptions that deliver all the benefits of usership without all the hassles of ownership. These subscriptions can be delivered in innovative and tax-efficient ways to suit your purposes. This helps employers and employees lower their transport costs, increase productivity and improve sustainability.