Is your commute damaging your health?

Morning commute
By Eleanor O'Neill

25 August 2016

Delays, overcrowding and anti-social behaviour are having a negative impact on the health of daily commuters, according to new research from the Royal Society of Public Health (RSPH).

The report, which surveyed 1500 commuters in England and Wales, found that the journey to work is increasing stress levels, encouraging unhealthy eating habits and cutting into time better spent exercising or socialising.

More than half (55%) of those polled identified their commute as a source of stress. Over a third (36%) also reported losing sleep due to time spent in transit and 41% admitted to reduced physical activity.

According to the RSPH, the average commuter spends 56 minutes travelling to and from work by 'passive commuting' on trains, buses and in cars. For workers in London, this rises to 79 minutes of inactivity in a stressful environment.

The effects of frequent travel also extend to dietary habit as 38% of respondents claim their commute leaves little time for healthy meal preparation and 33% say they snack en route.

In order to combat many of these issues, the RSPH has called for a concerted effort from employers to increase flexible and home working, easing the strain on the roads and rail network during rush hour.

This report comes at a time of misery for rail commuters, with the threat of strike action on the East Coast Mainline, a series of strikes in Scotland and industrial disputes for those using Southern Rail services in the South East.

Shirley Cramer CBE, Chief Executive of RSPH, said: “Taking public transport should be encouraged and made as attractive as possible, so there needs to be greater consideration given to supporting passengers' health and wellbeing.

"A simple step would be to ensure that health and wellbeing is a consideration in the awarding of any transport franchise. This could include dealing with overcrowding which is cited by commuters as one of the main bugbears which impacts on their health and wellbeing.

"While investment in infrastructure such as longer trains and platforms would yield greater results, a quick win on capacity would be for franchise holders to declassify first class carriages on commuter routes to free up desperately needed space.”

A report from the Department for Transport last month identified London and Manchester as the busiest commuter cities at peak times in England and Wales.


Department for Transport: England and Wales Top 10 overcrowded train services

RouteDeparture timeBusiest pointAverage passenger overload (Standard Class)
Brighton - Bedford 07:00 London Blackfriars 222%
Didcot Parkway - London Paddington 07:34 London Paddington 200%
Glasgow Central - Manchester Airport 04:22 Manchester Oxford Road 193%
Manchester Airport - Edinburgh Waverley 16:00 Manchester Oxford Road 174%
Heathrow Terminal 5 - London Paddington 07:51 Ealing Broadway 170%
Woking - London Waterloo 07:32 London Waterloo 168%
Henley-on-Thames - London Paddington 07:07 London Paddington 166%
Sutton - St. Albans City 08:08 Elephant and Castle 166%
London Euston - Crewe 17:46 London Euston 163%
Alton - London Waterloo 07:14 London Waterloo 160%

The morning service between Brighton and Bedford via London came top with more than double the number of passengers at points of the journey than the amount of available seating.

Shirley added: "As the length of our commute increases this impact is getting worse, including by contributing to rising levels of stress, adding to our waistlines, or eating into time we could otherwise spend doing activities which enhance our health and wellbeing such as sleep, exercise or time spent with friends or family."

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