Study findings: Implications for policy and practice?

The Commuting & Wellbeing study came to an end in July 2017 and we presented our key findings at our end of project showcase, hosted by the Department for Transport on 11th September 2017.

The event provided a valuable opportunity for us to discuss the study with an audience of over 60 delegates drawn from central government (including the Departments of Transport, Health, Communities and Local Government, and Work and Pensions), local authorities, academia and various non-governmental organisations.

Overall, our analysis has showed that (all else being equal) every extra minute of commuting time reduces job satisfaction, reduces leisure time satisfaction, increases strain in people’s lives and worsens mental health. 

The effects of commuting on employee wellbeing were also found to vary depending on the mode of transport used to get to work. So for example, those who walk or cycle to work do not report reductions in leisure time satisfaction in the same way as other commuters, even with the same duration of commute. Presumably, active commuting is seen as a beneficial use of time.

Full details of the study findings are now available in our summary report and a quick overview is provided by the accompanying one-page flyer. All of the publications from the project can be downloaded from the outputs page.

We are now contemplating the post-project challenge of identifying how policy, interventions or best practice guidance can be designed in response to the new evidence. For example, are there actions that can be taken to help employees find attractive housing close to their workplaces to reduce the need for time consuming commutes?

We would welcome your views in relation to this and have been seeking to stimulate debate in different arenas by publicising our findings in various special interest blogs and the general media. Some of our recent press coverage is listed below:

Special Interest Blogs

University of the West of England : Commuting has multiple impacts on employee wellbeing

What Works Centre for Wellbeing : Commuting and employee wellbeing

Understanding Society : Every extra minute of commute reduces job satisfaction

Work Wise : Smarter commuting is about mixing it up!

General Media Coverage

The Times  : Long slog to work as bad as a pay cut.

The Telegraph : A 20 minute increase in commute time is as bad as a pay cut

The Mail Online : Why you should live closer to work

The Evening Standard : Extra 20 minutes commuting per day ‘equivalent to 19% pay cut’ for job satisfaction

ITV : UWE study finds longer commute to work reduces job satisfaction

Newsweek : Here’s how to be happy: Shorten your work commute by 20 minutes

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End of Project Showcase

Join us at our free end-of-project showcase to hear compelling new evidence of how the journey to work can affect:

  • Mental health and levels of stress;
  • Physical health;
  • Job satisfaction; and
  • Satisfaction with life overall.

When: Monday 11th September 2017, from 14:15-17:00

Where: Department for Transport, 33 Horseferry Road, London, SW1P 4DR

To register, please go to our Eventbrite page


Event details

We will discuss:

  • the influence of long commutes, the use of different transport modes, and the ability to work from home on these different aspects of employee wellbeing.
  • the role of related lifestyle factors like employment type, working hours, income and family circumstances.
  • how commuting has differing impacts on different groups in the population – comparing males vs females, rich vs poor and urban vs rural dwellers.

After presenting the new evidence, there will be an opportunity to discuss how it can be used to inform policy across the transport, health and employment sectors.


Programme

14:15-14:30 Arrivals
14:30-14:40 Welcome – Introducing the study
14:40-15:00 The impact of commuting on wellbeing – a review of international evidence
15:00-15:30 Findings 1: The influence of longer journeys and commute mode
15:30-15:40 Break
15:40-15:55 Findings 2: Gender, income and where you live
15:55-16:10 Findings 3: Changing commutes and changing lives
16:10-16:50 Policy implications – facilitated discussion
16:50-17:00 Close
17:00-17:30 Informal discussions

About the Commuting & Wellbeing study

The Commuting & Wellbeing study was undertaken by the Universities of the West of England and Leeds, in partnership with the Department for Transport, Department of Health, Department for Communities and Local Government and the What Works Centre for Wellbeing. It was funded by the ESRC (Grant No. ES/N012429/1) and completed between February 2016 and July 2017.

The new evidence is based on information about the lives of over 26,000 employed people living in England, using data from the Understanding Society survey. This world leading population survey is part funded by the Department for Transport and the Department of Health.


 

How does commuting influence personal wellbeing? Reaching a consensus

We were delighted to welcome a group of expert speakers and delegates to our academic symposium on commuting and wellbeing, which we held at UWE Bristol on Friday 23rd June 2017. 

The aim of the day was to share the latest international research on the impacts of commuting on personal wellbeing, to discuss the knowledge that has been gained and the gaps that remain and to reflect on the contribution of this topic area to social and economic policy. The programme included six presentations from academics currently active in the field (summarised below), followed by a roundtable discussion.

The discussions highlighted a number of areas of agreement in the literature, but also some complex areas of debate.  For example, a number of independently conducted international studies of commuting and wellbeing have shown a link between active commuting (walking and cycling) and both (i) higher satisfaction with the journey experience and (ii) higher subjective wellbeing overall.

There is also consistent evidence to suggest that females feel the negative effects of commuting more strongly than do males, which is interpreted as being a consequence of the additional caring responsibilities typically undertaken by female partners. However, there appears to be conflicting evidence over whether or not longer duration commutes are linked to lower life satisfaction overall. Such a relationship would imply that people are not being fully compensated (through for example income) for commuting.

The discussions also covered broader policy issues and considered the changing role of commuting in 21st century lifestyles – for example flexible working patterns are disrupting the notion of a ritually repeated 5-day commute and labour market volatility has also increased the frequency with which people change employment. These trends have the potential to alter relationships between commuting and different aspects of personal wellbeing.

Our intention is to now synthesise the key issues raised over the course of the day in a ‘consensus statement’ which we will later publish on our website.

Summary of presenter contributions

Louise Reardon (University of Leeds) opened the day with a critical examination of the wellbeing agenda in government policy. She explained that wellbeing polices have been traditionally led by the public health sector, and highlighted an important opportunity for transport policy given that commuting has not to date been recognised as a target intervention in wellbeing policies. Louise’s presentation is available here.

Dick Ettema (Utrecht University) – a pioneer of wellbeing research in the transport field – synthesised evidence from a series of studies that he has conducted across continental Europe. These have confirmed for example, that active commuters are generally more satisfied with their journey experience than other commuters and that satisfaction with the commute is also linked to overall subjective wellbeing – suggesting that commuting is an appropriate target for wellbeing interventions. His research also revealed what features of the commute journey improve the experience. Dick’s presentation is available here.

Samuel Chng (Singapore University of Technology and Design) presented findings from his case study of commuting in London. This also showed higher life satisfaction being linked to walking to work, and that bus and underground commuters were more satisfied with life than train users. Samuel also emphasised the importance of recognising cultural differences, which may give rise to geographic differences in the relationships between commuting and wellbeing e.g. an hour long commute may be normal and acceptable in some cities / countries, but not others. Samuel’s presentation is available here.

Jonas De Vos (Ghent University) presented evidence from his research on the mechanisms through which leisure travel satisfaction influences overall wellbeing. His research has revealed, for instance that stressful journeys have overspill effects at the journey destination, which reduces satisfaction with the activities undertaken at the destination. This in turn leads to reductions in life satisfaction overall. He also showed that residential preferences matter in the relationship between travel behaviour and personal wellbeing. Jonas’ presentation is available here.

Susan Handy (University of California, Davis) presented an analysis of levels of journey related stress and enjoyment and travel satisfaction amongst students and staff working at the UC Davis university campus. This revealed that students (females particularly) found their journeys to be more stressful than staff and that cyclists were more satisfied with their travel mode than other commuters. Rail commuters travelling from outside Davis also had high satisfaction levels which can be explained by the high quality of the service provided.  Susan recommended a twin-track approach to improve commuting satisfaction by encouraging a shift to well-liked modes (which also requires ensuring that switchers develop a liking for them) and improving the quality of poorly-liked modes. Susan’s presentation is available here.

Ben Clark (University of the West of England) and Adam Martin (University of Leeds) concluded the presentations by summarising the latest findings from our current commuting and wellbeing project. We have been focussing on what happens to different measures of personal wellbeing when people change commute duration or mode. This has revealed that increasing commute durations from one year to the next are associated with reduced satisfaction with leisure time availability, increased strain and reduced job satisfaction. The impacts are not felt straightaway but build over time. Also, switching from driving to walking / cycling is associated with increased satisfaction with leisure time availability, reduced strain and increased job satisfaction. Our presentation is available here.

Symposium on Commuting & Wellbeing

We are holding a one day symposium on the topic of Commuting & Wellbeing at the University of the West of England, Bristol on Friday 23rd June.

The symposium includes speakers from the UK, continental Europe and the USA, as well as a workshop to discuss evidence needs. Our aim is to develop a ‘Consensus Statement’ which reflects and reports on the discussions undertaken over the course of the day.

The programme for the symposium is available here.

To register for the event, please contact ben4.clark@uwe.ac.uk. Please note that spaces are limited and will be allocated on a first come first serve basis.

 

Longer commutes are linked to lower life satisfaction – unless you commute by rail?

We have presented our findings on how and why commuting influences life satisfaction at various conferences over recent months, including the Centre for Transport & Society winter conference in December, the US Transportation Research Board Annual Meeting (TRB) in January and the UK Sustainable Transport and Health Summit 2017 in February.

Presenting

The events were all well attended, with around 100 international delegates taking part in our session at TRB – We were fortunate to be involved in a fascinating session with Noreen McDonald, Giulio Mattioli and Greg Marsden presenting on reductions in travel amongst millennials and Michael Smart and Nicholas Klein speaking about how prior life experiences influence travel (which coincidentally related to our earlier research on life transitions and travel behaviour over the life course).

Our analysis of commuting and wellbeing has so far shown that longer commutes are linked to lower life satisfaction. We found that this was mainly because people with long commuters are less satisfied with how much leisure time they have left after work. However, the effects were different for rail users, where longer duration commutes were actually found to be linked to slightly higher life satisfaction.

The data we are using cannot fully explain this, but it is plausible that longer rail commutes involve more comfortable journeys, giving passengers the opportunity to do something productive or to relax. Shorter rail commutes on the other hand, particularly in London, may increase feelings of strain, probably because they involve travelling on crowded services.

We would be keen to hear about your own experiences of commuting. But this finding nevertheless has interesting implications for public transport policies, for example, indicating that the journey experience could be of more importance to commuters than the journey time, contrary to standard transport appraisal techniques which place a value on saved travel time.

For further details of our results so far, have a look at the bulletins available on the outputs page. We’re now moving on to look at what happens to wellbeing when people change their commuting situation e.g. Might we expect people that switch to long duration rail commutes to experience an uplift in life satisfaction?

‘Life-oriented approach for transportation studies’ workshop session at IATBR 2015

One of the workshop sessions at the 14th International Conference on Travel Behaviour Research, held in Windsor (UK) in July 2015, was on the topic of a ‘Life-oriented Approach for Transportation Studies’. Kiron contributed to the workshop by presenting a resource paper with Joachim Scheiner (of TU Dortmund University) which looked at the contribution of biographical research to understanding travel behaviour.

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The workshop was organised by Professor Junyi Zhang (Hiroshima University) and featured nearly 50 participants.  Continue reading

The facts are clear – life events change travel behaviour

This is the headline of a Viewpoint piece we  published in Local Transport Today based on the findings of the Life Transitions project. In the article we refer to Phil Goodwin who suggested people might have other things on their mind than reconsidering their travel behaviour when major events occur in their lives. It is therefore not a given that travel behaviour is more likely to change at these times. We summarise the results of our research which found (for almost all of the life events examined) that people experiencing life events are more likely to change travel behaviour than those who do not. You can read the article here.

It encourages transport professionals to contemplate how their policies and practices can be enhanced by recognizing the importance of life events as moments where behaviour is reconsidered. We have also provided some specific suggestions ourselves of how policy goals and actions can respond to our findings (drawing on insights from our earlier policy workshop). These are summarised in a policy matrix available for download from the Outputs page.