Analysis of half a million postcodes shows latent potential of the sustainable commute

By Erin Heenan, Marketing Consultant

Over half a million employee postcodes have been analysed using Mobilityways’ Scoping Smart Mobility tool, revealing the latent potential of sustainable commuting. Employees who successfully make a switch to greener modes can drastically reduce commuter emissions nationwide.

Since launch, 350 employers across the UK have sought to use scoping to gain a better understanding of their local mobility landscape, and the challenges faced by their teams. Commuting emissions have become increasingly under the spotlight following many organisations planning their return to the office as lockdown restrictions lift.

Scoping Smart Mobility is a feature of the Platform that uses anonymised employee postcodes to give detailed insight on what real world sustainable commute options are available for each employee. The Platform generates a detailed Scoping report alongside an interactive map which displays the potential active-travel, public transport and car-sharing opportunities available to each team member.

In total 532,214 individual employee post codes have been analysed using the Scoping Smart Mobility feature. These employees come from organisations ranging in industry and size, from single and multi-site

employers, from 200 up to 54,000 employees, covering both public and private sector organisations.

The analysis revealed a sustainable travel option was available to just over 95% of the sample, highlighting how our habitual reliance on single occupancy vehicles is both misplaced and unnecessary.

Scoping Smart Mobility allows organisations to compare their current ACEL (Average Commuter Emissions Level) to their ACELO (Average Commuter Emission Level Opportunity), which highlights the lowest possible ACEL if all employees commuted sustainably.

As the only standardised methodology for calculating and comparing commuter emissions, ACEL helps employers to measure and manage their commuter emissions in line with net zero goals. Of the half a million post codes analysed it found;

40% of employees could walk or cycle

Scoping reports for these 350 employers revealed that active travel was a viable option for 40% of the sample. While it can be assumed that some employees within the 40% of the data set may have health or mobility issues limiting their capacity to walk or bike into work, this still leaves a sizeable number of employees who could engage with an active travel commute.The Government’s recently launched ‘Decarbonisation Plan’ outlined that walking and cycling should be the natural first choice for short journeys. This is a great opportunity for employers to support the Governments Commute Zero initiative by supporting employees to travel in this way. This might include promoting a walk to work programme, implementing cycle to work schemes and ensuring there is adequate infrastructure (showers, lockers, changing rooms) for active travellers.

Even small changes in employee behaviour can positively impact an organisation’s ACEL. A study led by the University of Oxford’s Transport Studies Unit found if 10% of the population successfully changed their travel behaviour, the emissions savings would be around 4% of lifecycle CO2 emissions from all car travel.

A study led by the University of Oxford’s Transport Studies Unit found if 10% of the population successfully changed their travel behaviour, the emissions savings would be around 4% of lifecycle CO2 emissions from all car travel.

The study’s co-author Dr Audrey de Nazelle, from the Centre for Environmental Policy at Imperial, said: “Our findings suggest that, even if not all car trips could be substituted by bicycle trips, the potential for decreasing emissions is huge.

The benefits of regularly commuting to work in this way extend beyond the immediate environmental ones. Active travel is proven to improve employee health and wellbeing which is closely tied to productivity in the workplace, as demonstrated in a Journal of Transport Geography entitled Does daily commuting behaviour matter to employee productivity?’.

Walking in particular, is one of the most accessible forms of exercise suitable for the majority of people. It is a familiar, convenient and free form of exercise that can be incorporated into everyday life and sustained into older age.

Making active travel ‘the first choice’ offers clear benefits to employers and their teams. In response to the Governments comments, Xavier Brice, CEO of cycling and walking charity Sustrans, said, “Realising this ambition will require sustained investment in world-class infrastructure to create safe and inclusive routes and make it easy for everyone to walk and cycle.”

*Scoping Smart Mobility considers postcodes within a 1.5-mile radius of the workplace close enough to walk. Postcodes within a 6-mile radius are considered close enough to cycle. These calculations are based on Google’s average walking and biking commute times in conjunction with the NHS’s exercise guidance which dictates adults should be active for at least 30 minutes per day.

Over half of employees could use public transport

Scoping data showed 53% of employees had an accessible public transport route available to them. A number of employers in the sample expressed surprise at this figure considering travel survey responses regarding public transport were considerably lower.

This reflects a wider trend of passenger journeys falling – even before the pandemic came into effect. The historical challenges of encouraging people to opt for public transport have largely been around the perceived lack of convenience and the unreliability of services in conjunction with a societal ambition toward private ownership.

Unfortunately, public transport and other shared mobility services, now face additional safety concerns which has seen their use drop dramatically. This threatens to exacerbate the climate crisis by fuelling an increase in single occupancy vehicle usage long term. Bus usage alone saw journeys falling 38% between July and September in 2020 compared with the same period of 2019.

The Department for Transport’s Decarbonisation Plan noted, “While the reduction in use of public transport has been a short-term necessity, we want to ensure a speedy return to public transport and to support a growth in patronage as our rural areas, towns and cities return to life.”

Bus usage alone saw journeys falling 38% between July and September in 2020 compared with the same period of 2019.

The Government must bolster confidence in public transport if we’re to see more people revert back to their previous travel behaviours and encourage other users to embrace public transport as a viable and sustainable commuting option.

Public transport is a critical service – particularly for demographics who can’t drive, can’t afford private ownership and/or live-in rural areas. Increased patronage of buses, trains, trams and coaches can dramatically reduce the number of vehicles on the road, minimising congestion and the associated commuter emissions.

Many employers strategically setup their workplaces close to public transport links in order to broaden their prospective candidate pool. It can therefore be frustrating for HR/Facilities managers and their teams when car parking facilitates are oversubscribed and under strain. How can employers encourage their teams to consider making the shift to buses, trains and trams?

One method is to provide individuals with the full information and allowing them to make their own decisions. Personalised Transport Plans (PTPs) make commuting personal by showing the most efficient and sustainable means to travel between any two points.

PTPs make it easy for individuals, removing the ambiguity and leg work of analysing multiple travel options. Employers can support their teams make an informed personal choice through a widget on websites and internal intranets, or plans can be individually emailed to each employee to secure the highest possible levels of engagement and visibility.

Upon hearing the term “travel benefit” many will immediately think ‘company car’ – but forward-thinking employers with a sustainability ethos should consider public transport first. There are numerous examples where employers have experienced success using subsidized public travel as an employee benefit. That can include providing paid for rail cards, season tickets and fare subsidies, travel expenses and season ticket loans. Depending on how you choose to proceed, this can result in tax savings benefits and/or additional reporting obligations to HRMC.

Encouraging employees to make the switch to public transport can even be as simple as introducing some flexibility around shift start and end times. Inevitably, extraneous circumstances may delay public transport from time to time, (much like cars) but employees will be more inclined to utilise the services available to them if they know workplace can accommodate those issues. A 360 degree view of the mobility landscape also allows leadership teams to adapt shift patterns or resource demand to better align with public transport services.

As a tool, Scoping has shown it’s not only possible to identify the opportunity for public service usage, but also as a means to start a dialogue with local public transport operators to improve the patronage of their services. This was the case with the Cheshire Constabulary, whose Scoping report found that only 9% of Winsford HQ workforce could commute to work utilising public transport. Close analysis of the data indicated that minor adaptations to Arriva’s routes would allow substantial increases in Police Staff patronage.

*Liftshare Group research shows that if a public transport journey takes more than double the driving duration then people are very unlikely to change behaviour. Mobilityways scoping report analyses which employee postcodes have a viable public transport option within 2x, 3x and 4x the time it would take to drive. The modes analysed include, bus, train, tram and underground.

91% of employees could share a lift with a colleague

Nearly all of the employees from the 532,214 post codes analysed could share a lift to work with a colleague. The PMs Transport Advisor, Andrew Gilligan said “The vast majority of road space is given to the least efficient users of it.” This is certainly the case when it comes to single occupancy vehicles with 47 million empty seats on the road every rush hour. Many of these journeys can and should be shared – particularly when employees often make the same journeys every day.

“Employers are going to be key in achieving our net zero goals, particularly now organisations are looking to return their teams to offices and workplaces.” Says Ali Clabburn, CEO of the Liftshare Group. “Car share schemes are a huge well of untapped potential for so many employers – over 700 of our corporate clients have experienced some huge successes, collectively saving over 1 billion miles. The pandemic has shown we have the propensity for change. It’s time to commute back better.”

Some employees naturally make informal car share agreements over time, which is great for developing colleague relationships but doesn’t maximise the ACELO (Average Commuter Emissions Level Opportunity) in the same way a formalised car shame scheme can. Encouraging employees to share a lift saves an average of 1 tonne of CO2e every year – the same amount generated for one passenger flying from London to New York.

Liftshare, the UK’s first and largest car sharing Platform, has operated for two decades, using technology to support behaviour change and promote the sharing economy. The app makes it easy for employees to connect and match with colleagues who are regularly travelling the same way. The ease of the app affords greater flexibility arranging lifts around shift scheduling, moving house or any changes in circumstance that will affect a user’s commute.

Filling empty seats is one of the quickest and easiest ways for employers and individuals to reduce their commuting emissions. Organisations who experience the highest levels of employee engagement scheme uptake are environmentally-led, often with a dedicated Liftshare champion to manage the scheme, widely promoting the benefits of sharing across the organisation.

Colleagues who share can often save hundreds or even thousands in travel costs every year, making it one of the most affordable commuting modes. Some organisations with limited parking capacity have designated parking for sharers, or even free parking if a charge is usually applied.

*Scoping Smart Mobility recognises a viable Liftshare opportunity within 1 mile of the colleague’s home. The feature highlights all the opportunities available and breaks postcodes down into groups of 10+ car share opportunities, between 4 and 9 car share opportunities and 1 and 3 car share opportunities.

Thinking about implementing a car share scheme? Use Liftshare’s savings calculator and see how much you could save

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