The number of people commuting for at least one hour a day fell for the first time in a decade between 2006 and 2007, according to new research commissioned by the TUC (to coincide with Workwise UK’s Commute Smart week). The ‘heartening’ 1% drop means that 100,000 fewer UK workers are wasting this sizeable chunk of their day sitting in traffic jams or standing on a sweaty train on their way to and from the office. For the previous ten years, commuting times have been rising – but as companies embrace flexible working, it seems the tide may finally be turning.
Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest percentage drop in hour-long commutes came in London, where the proportion of afflicted workers fell from 47% to 40% - meaning that about 101,000 people saw their commuting times come down during the year. But it was the same story in every UK region (both the North East and Northern Ireland enjoyed 3.5% drops, for example) – and given that the research pre-dates the recent financial crisis, this does suggest that moves towards ‘smarter’ flexible working policies seem to be paying off.
Of course, this still means that over 5m people – 20% of the UK workforce – are still spending over an hour a day commuting. In London, the situation is even worse: two in five workers spend at least an hour (to be honest, we’re surprised it’s not more). Indeed, across the country as a whole, the average commute time was apparently 54 minutes - and that’s not to mention the fact that UK workers already have some of the longest hours in Europe in the first place. So we’re not exactly getting an easy ride (so to speak).
Naturally it’s good news that companies have started taking flexible working seriously. But what will happen as the recession starts to bite? ‘It's vital that concerns about the economy do not deter employers from introducing flexible working, which could ease the strain for hard-pressed workers while delivering real benefits for business,’ says the TUC’s Brendan Barber. We’re inclined to agree – although we’re less convinced by his opposition to the Government postponing the extension of flexible working rights to the parents of any child under 16 (at the moment, it would give small businesses in particular one less thing to worry about).
It’s hard to know what impact the events of the last year will have on commuting times. Rising unemployment, particularly in the City, should remove some of the hour-plus brigade – but then other people might have started walking to work to save cash...
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