With the lifting of coronavirus restrictions in the UK probably two weeks away, the prospect of returning to offices means reviving the daily commute.
In a push to bring more people back to urban and urban centers to boost the urban economy, a group of 50 business leaders including Canary Wharf CEO Sir George Iacobescu, Heathrow and Gatwick Airport Chiefs, Capita CEO Jon Lewis and BT CEO Philip Jansen urges the government to encourage a return to office.
The government has already tried to pull workers back into office once before before Covid cases rose again in September last year. While some companies, particularly banks, have called for their staff to return to headquarters, others have suggested that either teleworking or a hybrid system is here to stay. This has implications for Britain’s formerly hard – working transport network.
Official figures from the Department of Transport show a gradual increase in recent months’ use of public transport across the country, with train passengers exceeding half the pre-pandemic level. However, figures for the London Underground (where 40-50% of passengers have returned) suggest that leisure travel has jumped back faster than travel to work.
But what do commuters think? Despite the introduction of flexible tickets – in fact a part-time season ticket – the government does not expect a complete return to jobs. We asked readers to tell us how they feel about returning to the office.
‘I spent just under £ 5,000 a year and never got a seat’
Fatma Mehmet, a 39-year-old manager working for a local authority, commuted from Hertfordshire to London to work for more than 15 years. “I looked up 60 miles a day, five days a week,” she says.
“The time you waste commutes 10 [journeys] a week – you will never get it back. Since I started working from home 15 months ago, I have been able to invest this time in work, relationships and hobbies. I am more productive at home, less distracted and feel rested every day. I feel less anxious and let down by the constant disturbances I used to endure with my commute. ”
Mehmet also does not miss out on wasting thousands of pounds a year for his train fare on the Great Northern line. “I spent just under £ 5,000 a year and have never been given a seat, so you wonder what you are paying for. The trains were delayed at least once a week, it all seems completely unfair now and a stress I do not need in my life.
“Flexible tickets are not necessarily as flexible and helpful as the train companies say they are, and the thought of commuting again fills me with fear and apprehension. Fortunately, my employers have been amazing and allowed a flexible hybrid model, and in the future I would probably like to go one day a week, at most just for my mental health and work friendships.
“But if I was forced to return to the office five days a week, I would consider leaving my job.”
‘When it’s safe, I will commute again, I can not wait’
As much as Mehmet cannot bear the prospect of boarding a train to work again, Owen Fraser, 23, of Aberdeen is looking forward to it enormously.
“I used to think that my commute was awkward, even though I now realize that I complained about nothing. Teleworking was bad for my mental health and I would be much more grateful for a commute that allows me to adapt properly mentally to the work day, ”he says.
University students, who put off a year of performing an internship, used to commute for up to an hour and a half on buses to the city center before shutting down forced him to work from home.
“The commute gave me the opportunity to catch up on today’s events at e.g. Radio 4. On the way home, I used to stop at my local main street to meet some friends or visit my favorite stores. Some of these, including my local John Lewis, are closed now and I’m worried that more will follow due to the increase in telework and the aggressive promotion of tech giants and many apps as a result.
“Do not get me wrong, I’m worried about catching Covid on public transport. But when it’s safe, I’ll commute again, I can not wait. ”
‘There is now no social distance on buses’
The prospect of catching the virus on a cramped bus is what has put Alex, 35, an IT testing engineer from Manchester, out of using public transport to get to work.
“There is now no social distance on buses, and rarely wears a mask properly. On top of that, when the weather is bad, all the windows are closed so there is no ventilation and fresh air.
“I had whooping cough a few years ago and the only place I can think I could have caught it at that time is in the bus where I was packed close with people who were coughing and were sick. The pandemic has made me realize what gay forest buses are. With mask wearing not enforced at least, I just do not feel good about taking a bus or tram these days. ”
Alex is still working from home but will have to return from October. “My office manages a hybrid scheme, 60% telework and 40% office. I take two days a week.
“I am a 20-minute walk or a 10-minute drive away from the office and I may get a taxi every time, which will cost me around £ 15 a day. That would not be a permanent solution, but with cases likely to rise again in the fall and winter, I am in theory prepared to pay it to be safer.
“I would love to cycle to work, but given the lack of proper dedicated bike paths, I do not feel confident doing so either. I have so many friends who have had accidents while cycling on the roads, and almost accidents due to reckless drivers, which scares me. ”
‘I’m worried about the cost of even occasional commuting’
Stephen, 50, a product manager from near Cambridge, has been commuting to central London for the past two years.
“When I first started working in London, the commute was tough, but it was exciting to work in the capital, have an endless variety of lunch options and feel connected to the city. I even thought I would spend my train journeys reading or watching TV.
“The truth is, however, that I left the house shortly after noon. 06 every morning and had to flee the office at. 16.30 to get home just in time to put my little kids to bed after everyone but me had dinner together.
“My wife was left to do all the school running, and hurried home from her own job about 15 miles away. It was very hard for her.
I was exhausted and only ate with my family on the weekends and paid around £ 5,500 for the privilege. In hindsight, the season ticket was an expense I could barely cover, and I certainly could not afford to add underground travel – meaning 25 minutes of quick walking each way and even more time pressure.
“Apart from the stress of commuting, which is not talked about enough, there were all the times the trains were canceled completely, or when an entire train was unpretentiously dumped on to a rural one because it did not go any further.”
The father of two had never been a fan of teleworking, but can not imagine returning to his old life.
“Very few people I have talked to come back full time. Going on just two days a week would cost almost the same over the course of the year when it comes to regular peak load returns, so I’m worried about the cost of even occasional commuting.
“When I return to some kind of presence in the office, it becomes one day a week.”