For many people, where they work and how often they commute has permanently changed as a result of COVID-19. Richard Pilgrim, marketing manager at Travel South Yorkshire’s Active and Sustainable Travel team, tells unLTD’s Chris Coates what lessons we can learn from the last ten months. 

Transport Focus, an independent watchdog for transport passengers and road users, recently published their ‘Travel during COVID-19: key lessons for 2021 and beyond’ report. This report looks back to the findings from their weekly tracker survey, an exercise they have carried out every week since May 2020.

The survey, with more than 60,000 responses across 33 weeks, has consistently shown that the majority of passengers using public transport have felt safe when travelling. Around four in five who used a bus in the last seven days said they felt very or fairly safe, and almost nine in ten who had used a train in the last seven days said they felt very or fairly safe.

But the picture changes where people have not used a bus, tram or train service recently, even if they were frequent users before March 2020. Less than three in ten people who hadn’t made a journey by bus thought they would feel safe, and just one in three people that hadn’t made a recent journey by train thought they would feel safe.

It’s clear that attitudes and practices towards the future of work and commuter travel are changing, with increased talk of greater flexibility where the workplace and job role enable it. Over ten months on from the start of the first lockdown, many people have not returned to their previous workplace at all.

More people are seeking greater flexibility in the future and there has been more focus on the potential for ‘hybrid working’, a set-up that could provide a suitable solution for employer and employee alike. As Transport Focus themselves conclude, ‘many people expect to work from home more and commute to workplaces less often in future’.

It’s becoming increasingly clear that seeing a full return to our previous commuting habits seems unrealistic and, in many ways, undesirable. After all, before the pandemic, typical commutes in our area were around 50 minutes per day and had been increasing in recent years.

Having an ongoing dialogue between employer and employee is crucial to what the future place of work and the commute will look like for many. Perhaps surprisingly, this conversation may not be as advanced as it needs to be. Our own survey, which we undertook with more than 50 employers across South Yorkshire in September 2020, revealed that less than one in two had surveyed their staff about what a return to the workplace could look like.

We can help to get these conversations going, reassuring current and future users of local transport services and advising on best routes, tickets and timings. We can host travel surgeries where we discuss travel options, and all this can be done ‘virtually’. We’re keen to talk to and work with businesses of all sizes to see how we can help more people re-think their future journey to work in 2021.

To find out how Travel South Yorkshire’s Active and Sustainable Travel team can help your workplace, contact sustainabletravel@sypte.co.uk or visit travelsouthyorkshire.com/workplace.