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Commuting post-lockdown: An opportunity for “significant change in the way we all travel”


Ann O’Driscoll is Director of North Bristol SusCom – a group of major employers located in North Bristol trying to reduce single car occupancy commuting by their 45,000 employees and 30,000 students. They are working together to influence and improve local transport provision to combat congestion, improve the health of their staff and reduce their impact on the environment.

North Bristol SusCom businesses want to lead by example and enable car sharing, walking, cycling, bus use, rail, working from home and other forms of active or public transport as preferred ways to work and around the area on business. In this blog below, Ann reflects on the experiences of their business members during the pandemic, and the window of opportunity to make significant changes to the way we travel. 

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on all our lives.  Many have lost loved ones, some their livelihoods, others have been on the front line helping those with Covid-19 or delivering food and supplies to those in need or self-isolating.  Many have been less directly impacted by the virus itself but may have had to get to grips with working from home, being furloughed, becoming part-time teachers and carers, learning how far 2 metres apart actually is and how to unmute on Zoom meetings.

There are things we will want to leave far behind us when the pandemic is over but there will also be things we will want to see continue. One thing is certain, there are many further challenges ahead and they will keep on coming and challenging us so we all need to work harder and faster to build a more resilient future for all.

In my role as Director of North Bristol SusCom, I have been speaking regularly with my business members to find out how they and their staff are coping and discuss how we can try and retain some of the unexpected benefits that we experienced in lockdown. Benefits like:

  • cleaner air
  • reduction in motorised traffic on the roads
  • increases in the number of people walking and cycling
  • working from home
  • having more flexible working hours to enable better management of commitments from work and family work
  • more informal work meetings
  • saving money on reduced need to travel

To help support our members, North Bristol SusCom has set up some pages on our website that contain Covid 19: advice and information advice on a range of topics:

  • Working safely/working from home
  • Safer Travel Guidance
  • Support for members
  • Walking and Cycling
  • Public Transport
  • Car sharing and electric vehicles

I have been incredibly impressed how many of our members and the wider business community have adapted to the pandemic and to new ways of working. Our business are:

  • building ventilators for the NHS
  • supporting staff to continue to work from home – ensuring they have the necessary equipment for safe and effective homeworking
  • keeping an eye on the welfare of staff – enabling employees who cannot work from home to work safely at the office.
  • upgrading systems to ensure remote working is possible and productive – one business completely digitised their entire finance system during the lockdown
  • reconfiguring offices and manufacturing areas to enable social distancing and changing shift patterns to avoid overlap and allow for additional cleaning.
  • promoting cycle to work schemes and offering loan bikes to increase the numbers cycling to work or near home.
  • looking at reallocating car parking for cycle and active travel facilities like showers and secure cycle parking.
  • increasing the numbers who can permanently work from home and reconfiguring parts of the office to allow for more collaboration space to be used on a more ad hoc basis.
  • making their premises Covid secure to ensure those working on site are safe.

There is a real window of opportunity to deliver significant change in the way we all travel. But, that window is already starting to close. As we start moving out of lockdown many of the benefits we experienced are in danger of being eroded as traffic levels are increasing, pollution levels are rising, public transport services have restricted capacity leading many to jump in their cars and not enough space is being available to ensure people walking and cycling can do so safely and maintain social distancing.

The world has just undergone what is arguably the largest behaviour change experiment the world has ever seen. We need to seize this opportunity to accelerate the pace of change required. The time to act is now.

Transport, News & Information, Blog
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