Why are UK commute times increasing?

Many travel long distances to work for the allure of better wages or a better housing situation. Many believe that these factors will make them happier, however, they don’t account for the fact that long commutes are also linked to unhappiness. This infographic from MOMA has helped to collate data on the increasing time it takes for the nation to commute.

Perhaps unsurprisingly the South East of England has the highest increase of long commutes from 2004. London attracts commuters from its surrounding areas due to its higher paid positions. Unfortunately, the cost of living in London itself is astronomically high. The boundaries around London such as Surrey, Kent and Essex offer a more tranquil lifestyle with better schools for settled families. As London and its markets grow, so do the demands placed on public transport and on its roads, resulting in more commuters spending longer getting to and from work. The lowest increase regionally is in the North East. Aside from the main three cities Newcastle, Sunderland and Middlesbrough the North East consists of rural towns and cities. Interestingly the North East also has the highest unemployment rate in the UK. This suggests that a decline in employment has helped ease the burden of transport and travel in the area.

The analysis shows the number of commuters travelling for three or more hours a day has risen by 75% from 500,000 to 880,000 over the past decade. The UK’s housing crisis, as well as a lack of spending on roads and railways, is to blame according to the TUC. The creaking infrastructure of soaring rents and high house prices have forced commuters to relocate further away from city centres. A government spokesman defends this claim however by explaining that new homes have increased by 9% as well as a 15bn investment of England’s roads and the most ambitious programme of rail upgrades since the Victorian era.

Government schemes such as the ‘Northern Powerhouse’ aim to ignite direct competition to London from the North West. These schemes have the potential to reduce commuting times as higher skilled positions become available in alternative areas. These schemes can help relieve the pressure on London and allow for a greater Northern growth. This has the potential to increase commuter times in the areas covered by ‘The Northern Powerhouse’. The North West which covers Liverpool and Manchester has seen a 68% rise in 120-minute commutes. Although under the UK average; which is at a 72% rise, we can expect to see a further rise in these areas.

The research showed that women have the highest increase of commute times with a 131% rise of women traveling three hours or more. This is a worrying statistic when coupled with a report from 2011 stating that women experience the psychological effects of commuting up to four times more than men. This is due to the additional responsibilities of childcare and household chores which increase the burden.

Better-paid positions, married with the UK’s housing crisis and transport issues are increasing the time taken to commute into work. Large scale intervention from the government is attempting to solve the issues by encouraging growth away from London in the hope that Northern cities foot the burden. With more of us ‘on the go’ we must remember to look after our psychological health and make sure that what we are doing is making us happy.

MOMA Infographic