Active Travel – is there a better way to get around?


by Richard Pilgrim, Marketing Manager for SYPTE's Active and Sustainable Travel team

When was the last time you really thought about your daily commute? Whether we’re travelling to and from work, to education or training or to get to the football, cinema or the shops, the way we choose to get around has an impact on our local area and our own wellbeing.

We are never too far away from a news headline telling us the way we travel is negatively impacting on our health and the environment. But changing our travel habits takes time and for many of us the default position for travel is the car. Recent Office for National Statistics census data showed 71% of people living in South Yorkshire travel to work by car; a figure that’s increased since 2001 and is higher than in other similar areas in the North of England. Our reliance on car travel is having an adverse impact on our local economy and our quality of life, due to factors like congestion and worsening air quality. So, could we make some of these journeys more active?

 What is active travel?

Active travel is often used to describe walking and cycling but also includes public transport. We may not immediately think of public transport as being an ‘active’ form of travel, but there is a growing body of evidence which shows that switching from the car to the bus, tram or train can have a positive impact on our health and wellbeing.

Research published in the Journal of Public Health in 2019 found that:

 - Public transport users accumulated on average 20.5 minutes a day of physical activity as part of their journeys – train users accumulated just over 28 minutes and bus users 16 minutes.

 - 34% of public transport users achieved 30 minutes a day of physical activity in the course of their journeys – 21% of bus users and 52% of train users.

It’s obvious really. The walk from home to the nearest bus stop or transport interchange and then to our destination is a great way to get some much-needed activity into our day.

Leave the key, travel for free

Changing our regular travel habits can be challenging, but given the benefits of active travel, how can we encourage and enable more people to make this change?

In the four-week period up to 22 December 2019, Travel South Yorkshire supported over 450 existing car commuters to try their local public transport services for free. Every participant received a smartcard, pre-loaded with a TravelMaster 28-day SYConnect+ ticket, to enable them to try any – and all – local bus, tram, tram train and train services. In feedback gathered after the trial, 42% of participants felt they had been more active and were able to demonstrate just how much more activity they had incorporated into their day through the extra steps taken and the additional distance they had covered by foot during the trial period. A further 33% said they may have been more active. Combined with those reporting ‘reduced stress when compared to driving’ (68%), the benefits of a more active commute are clear.   

Supporting a more active commute

Our Active and Sustainable Travel team work hard to introduce new users to local public transport services, offering incentives and trial products to encourage people to give the bus, tram and train a go. They also support people in making a change to their travel behaviour, typically organised through their employer, and linked to change in the workplace. For example, when a team or even the whole organisation relocates to new premises. At times of change we’re more inclined to ask is there another way, a better way, to get around?  Feedback from participants in our 28-day public transport trial programmes has been overwhelmingly positive.  Three quarters would recommend public transport to others and eight out of ten will continue to use public transport for some, or all, of their commute.

Get involved and give it a go

Choosing to change the way we travel can be daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. Simply deciding to try a new mode of travel can be the all important first step, even if it’s just for one day a week. How about taking a Car Free Friday? Or why not get involved in the debate around active travel? Dame Sarah Storey, the Active Travel Commissioner for the Sheffield City Region, is asking you to have your say on what would help you to make a more active journey via the Active Travel Interactive Map. Well over 3,000 comments have already been made and there’s still time to share your views. 

The next time you head out of the door, why not ask yourself if there’s another way you could make that trip. One that could be better for you and the people around you. We've all got somewhere to get to, but sometimes there may be a better way?