Let's give commuters outlook a refresh

There is little doubt that the topic of commuting is viewed as divisive, especially amongst those who have to travel for hours on end, every week, to their workplaces. However, with population sizes increasing, people living longer, and more cities around the world expanding into out-skirting towns, it is not an issue that will be disappearing any time soon.

The cost and availability of living space in urban areas is a concern for a number of cities in the UK and, it is perhaps unsurprising that more young people and families are willing to sacrifice a longer journey to work in order to take advantage of a larger and arguably healthier living environment outside of the city.

The average commuting time in England has grown in the past few years to 54 minutes.[1] But those travelling into London enjoy the longest commute of all, at a staggering 74 minutes which is nearly twice the worldwide average.[2] This not only suggests that more people are being forced to live outside the nation’s capital, but that they are also having to take multiple modes of transport to get to their workplace with cars in particular becoming a less feasible alternative, because of the traffic in urban centres and the global reductions on carbon emissions.

Ideally, the majority of commuters could walk or cycle to work every day, but given the increasing distance workers are living outside cities, it is impractical to comprehend having the majority of commuters using these as their exclusive method of transport to work. Therefore, train and underground travel are currently the only realistic long-distance options for commuters.

This wouldn’t be an issue except there is increasing dissatisfaction surrounding train travel which only appears to be getting worse with independent bodies such as the ‘Dispute Resolution Ombudsman’ having to be introduced by the government to hold train companies to account about delays and cancelled services. Consequently, with the current infrastructure causing much displeasure amongst users, the travel journey needs to become a more positive overall experience. If we take trains as the main example, there are a number of obvious problems with the current system, such as the ever-changing timetables, the lack of drivers and not enough trains at peak times. However, without even more significant investment in transport links, these problems will continue to happen. But given the timescale these changes often take to implement, there are more efficient ways travel can be become a less arduous experience.

I believe there is a more crucial issue at the heart of the problem; currently travel is not a pleasant experience for commuters. It feels like you’re herds of cattle being led up and down the country in undesirable carriages and the worst thing is that you’re paying a small fortune for that privilege! In order to change the current perceptions, I believe that the whole view of transport needs a refresh. It shouldn’t be viewed as just a method of getting from A to B. It needs to be something, commuters especially, find a comfortable, reliable and more personable journey.

Technology is certainly a method which has the potential to transform the overall perspective of train travel across the UK to make journeys feel more pleasant for all commuters. For example, having fast and reliable Wi-Fi connections on all commuter trains and at all stations would go a long way to improving experiences. There is nothing more frustrating than logging onto a train’s Wi-Fi and either not being able to connect or having a connection which is so slow, it is essentially unusable. So having a quick and secure connection can be a valuable tool for accessing the latest version of the document you’ve been working on or if you’re wanting to catch up on the latest episode of House of Cards on your journey home.

Additionally, I think train companies could learn extensively from airlines in order to improve overall satisfaction on long journeys, especially considering quite often train journeys are longer than many international flights. Therefore, going forward new train carriages should come with video displays on the back of every seat so commuters could browse the web, watch films, catch up with the latest news or play interactive games. This would undoubtedly create a more positive outlook on train journeys and commuters could feel like they’re using their time more effectively. Adding the option to connect personal mobiles to the screen would also boost entertainment flexibility and enhance the entire journey.

Finally, transport apps need to be utilised more effectively by train goers and global transport bodies. Apps such as, Citymapper and Moovit are a fantastic method of getting around cities because they not only simplify a commuter’s day, but they can also be used to personalise every individual’s journey.  The easy to use interfaces and real time updates produced are great for city users but the apps don’t extend to all commuter towns, so not every traveller can utilise the services available. This forces commuters to scramble around on multiple apps to try and work out their quickest method to work, especially on the rare occasion when a train is delayed! Whereas, if the apps extended to towns and villages outside cities, commuters could plan their journeys more efficiently and provisions could be made for delayed or cancelled trains as soon as they wake up in the morning.

In summary, the current UK travel infrastructure is stretched more thinly than ever before and without significant investment in projects such as Crossrail, it is unlikely commuters’ journeys will be improving any time soon.  However, the likelihood of substantial investment in all major cities around the UK is all but a fantasy for daily commuters. Therefore, changing the perception of the commute by making some feasible changes and utilising technologies that are continuing to develop on a daily basis has the potential to reverse negative perceptions surrounding daily commutes - so journeys to work will become a more pleasant and connected experience, that’s if you can get a seat that it!

[1] Instant Offices, (2018). ‘Transport and Commuting to London for Work’. [online]. Available at: https://www.instantoffices.com/blog/featured/commuting-for-work-london/ [Accessed 4 Jan. 2019]

[2] IBID