Workers Ditching Home Working for The Office

In a boost to office working, 76% of people polled said they regularly used the train, bus or tram throughout October.  According to analysts at transport firm TUBR this is up 34% on six months ago when only 42% of those polled said they were regularly taking a trip via public transport.

Commenting on the rise, TUBR’s co-founder Dash Tabor told the i: “These findings show more than three quarters of people are now more confident about using public transport post the lifting of Covid restrictions compared to less than half of passengers six months ago. Transport providers and the Government now need to capitalise on this by introducing measures which further boost people’s confidence about using our public transport network.

“Work from home may be right for many – but it is not for all and making public transport safer to use is a key way of getting more people back to work safely.”

The survey also highlights other findings which appear to indicate office-work is making a comeback.  Six months ago around 27% of the 1,000 passengers surveyed by TUBR admitted they “rarely” used public transport due to fears about contracting Covid-19.

But that has now reduced dramatically, with just 2% saying they avoided it entirely. Economists say getting more people out of home-offices and back to work will help provide a much needed boost to crisis-hit towns and city-centres who have lost billions through the pandemic.  Many experts say that this could be further boosted if the Government started to impose stricter rules on mask-wearing.

Currently there are no mandatory rules in place in England – although the Mayors of London, Liverpool and Manchester are all encouraging commuters to wear masks on public transport.  And last weekend Rishi Sunak told Andrew Marr he wears a mask when taking the Tube.

Ms Tabor added: “Although it is an emotive topic, the Government’s refusal to bring back mandatory face masks may well be holding more people back from returning to use public transport. All our research over the past year indicates passengers would be more likely to use the train, tram or bus if they knew fellow passengers were wearing masks. The fear of contracting Covid-19 remains a genuine barrier for many in making the decision about where they work from and there’s no doubt mask-wearing on our train network has fallen off a cliff since the Summer.”

Ms Tabor also set out the five things she believes train providers could do to further boost passenger numbers.

They are:

  1. Introduce mask-less carriages in a bid to boost commuters confidence
  2. Review timetables and introduce more services off-peak to reflect the move away from 9-5
  3. Encourage travellers to utilise free to download apps, like the one TUBR provides, which gives details of crowd-free services
  4. Make masks more accessible on the go with “get a mask here” signs in stations for those who might have left theirs at home or need new ones (I had to go to 4 shops the other day to find masks!)
  5. Ensure those working in the stations and on public transport set the right example and wear a mask

The report comes as new analysis by shows the UK has maintained higher levels of remote working than most of Europe.

According to data from Imperial’s Covid-19 behaviour tracker, the UK ranks below much of Europe in terms of how many people are still avoiding going out and crowded areas, and well below on mask-wearing. But one pandemic measure we have taken to is working from home, far more so than most other countries.

According to Google, which tracks anonymised location data as part of its mobility data reports, the UK has consistently had the lowest proportion of people in workplaces of anywhere in Europe. The UK is only beaten by Denmark, which is having a surge in Covid-19 cases.

The UK now has 25 per cent fewer people in workplaces compared to before the pandemic, while Portugal and France are five and eight per cent below pre-pandemic levels respectively. During the pandemic, the largest influence on Covid-19 behaviour was likely to have been infection rates, but as case rates stabilise and vaccination levels across Europe start to rise, this is likely to be less of a factor.

Professor Andrew Steptoe, head of the Behavioural Science and Health department at University College London, said: “It seems to me to be a combination of actual infection rates, the way in which cities are organised but also personal preferences.”

London, in particular, has traits that lend themselves to working from home. A large service sector means that many jobs can be done from home and long commutes mean that avoiding the office can make a material difference to people’s lives.