We are kicking off the new year with a renewed message from Travel South Yorkshire’s Active and Sustainable Travel team to encourage workplaces to think about how their employees are travelling to work. unLTD’s Bronte Saulle found out what options are available…

Through the Department for Transport’s Sustainable Travel Access Fund (STAF), Travel South Yorkshire can support employers to enable their staff to improve their commute. This predominantly involves moving away from cars towards more active and sustainable forms of transport.

The #LittleBigChanges campaign focuses on how a small change to a routine can make a big difference. Its aim is to encourage as many people as possible to make small changes to their lifestyle and encourage transport choices that are more active and sustainable, better for the individual and the local environment.

Travel South Yorkshire Marketing Manager, Richard Pilgrim poses the following important questions: “Do employers know or think about how their staff travel to work? Do they think about the impact that this could have on the individual’s health and wellbeing?”

A study by Mindlab International found that walking, as part of a return trip by bus, provided up to half the recommended daily level of exercise (the NHS recommends 30 minutes per day, five days a week). Study participants walked for an average of 15 minutes when taking a return journey by bus – two and a half times more than when taking the same journey by car.

According to a survey from the Journal of Public Health, people using public transport racked up an average of 20.5 minutes of physical activity, as part of their daily journeys alone. Breaking those figures down, train users accumulated 28.1 minutes and bus users 16 minutes. This resulted in overall 34% of public transport users achieving 30 minutes a day of exercise over the course of their journeys (21% of bus users and 52% of train users).

Richard explained: “Public transport use is an effective way to incorporate physical activity into daily life, with one in three public transport users meeting physical activity guidelines. This suggests that shifts from sedentary travel modes to public transport could dramatically raise the proportion of the population achieving recommended levels of physical activity.”

There’s no denying that studies show ditching the car can contribute positively towards individual’s health and wellbeing, but often a shift in circumstances is the biggest driver of change. This can be anything from an office relocation to a change in availability or demands on existing car park infrastructure.

Richard said: “The new year presents a chance to re-think all our habits and this includes the way we travel. Travel South Yorkshire’s Active and Sustainable Travel team will work with employers for free to consider ways that their employees can switch-up their commute. This involves discussing employee travel and any issues and challenges the business has.

“Travel Clinics are held on-site where employees can talk about their existing travel to work habits with an advisor, and from there eligible employees are provided with access to tickets to trial public transport services in South Yorkshire. For supported workplaces, where employees currently commute to work by car, the Active and Sustainable Travel team can provide up to 28 days of free access to local public transport services including bus, tram, tram train and train.”

On average, 80% of participants in the 28-day public transport trials so far have typically reported feeling less stressed compared to driving. This includes 70 employees from Grant Thornton, who took part in the trial after their office moved two miles from Broadfield Court to Sheffield city centre, and employees from HSBC when they relocated around half a mile from Griffin House to Grosvenor House.

ANSYS UK moved its engineering simulation business from Sheffield Business Park to St. Paul’s Place last year. This resulted in leaving behind its office close to junction 33 of the M1 to a city centre base with limited parking. Out of 16 people, who took part in the 28-day public transport trial during the first month of their new commute, 100% reported feeling less stressed compared to driving to work and 100% said they would recommend public transport. Moving forward, 89% said they would continue to choose public transport for some or all of their journeys to and from work.

Richard added: “Switching from the car to public transport can be easy with the support of Travel South Yorkshire’s Active and Sustainable Travel team. They will do the hard work, including providing support with journey plans and researching best route options.

“For those that are driving and are unwilling or unable to ditch the car, we can look at supporting them through trials of Park and Ride sites linked to public transport. This enables a combination of public transport and the car, whilst reducing the number of miles travelled by car. If someone is unable to change their typical weekly commute in full, they can try switching to public transport at least once a week.”

Our editor Richard Fidler secured a 28-day pass for South Yorkshire to see if his travel habits changed. Here he reports back:

When I was presented with the pass which gave me free travel across trams, trains and buses in our area I told Travel South Yorkshire Marketing Manager Richard Pilgrim that I’d be totally honest with my review.

The aim was to make me use the car less often and let public transport take the strain. It hasn’t been easy but slowly but surely, I have been making adaptations.

Your use of transport is generally dictated by your lifestyle – work, family commitments, socialising – so I knew I wouldn’t be able to go totally car free.

However, with a bit of planning I have been able to leave the car at home occasionally which either gave me a bit more time to answer emails and plan my day or to enjoy a drink after work – with several events throughout December this was very useful!

I would have liked to have taken advantage of the pass even further, but it does take time to get out of the habit of just jumping in your car.