Guest blog: Smarter working and better transport needed to beat the commuter blues - By Frances O'Grady, General Secretary of the TUC

Travelling to work can be unbearable. Long commutes feel like wasted time, and clog up our transport networks. Commute Smart Week is a great opportunity to talk about how we can make the journey better, shorter, or even eliminate them.

As November bites, many of us will be commuting in the cold and the dark. Trees will have shed their leaves. You don’t have to live in the Pennines, where the first snows fell a month ago, in order to get the feeling that simply getting to work can itself be hard work. 
And things are not getting any easier. The average yearly commute has increased by 10 hours since 2010. One in seven employees are now commuting for more than two hours a day, up by 900,000 since last year. 

Meanwhile, petrol prices are rising again, with a litre of unleaded fuel now 14p more than it was at the start of the year*, whilst many rail fares are set to increase by a further 1.9% in January. 
But it need not be doom, gloom, and long commutes. The government, local authorities, employers, trade unions and campaigns like Work Wise UK can all play a part in taking the pressure off of commuters. There are two main ways we see to improve the situation.

1. Better transport

The government should make investment in transport a key priority for the Autumn Statement next week. TUC research has revealed that UK investment in transport is the lowest among advanced economies. 

The go ahead for the second phase of HS2 earlier this week was welcome, but a lot more is needed. More public spending on transport would help to underpin the future of the economy in these uncertain times, as well as helping to make our journey to work less laborious. 

2. Smarter working

Employers should use Commute Smart Week as an opportunity to look again at smarter working practices like flexible working and home working. Despite all the uncertainty around the future of the economy, the jobs market is quite tight at the moment, with unemployment at less than 5%. It’s time for employers to think outside the box if they want to recruit, retain and motivate staff.

More use of flexi-time could help keep people in work and draw in new recruits who find it hard to cope with the traditional nine to five, including those with caring responsibilities. Flexi-time can also help to ease transport congestion, reduce emissions and make commuting more bearable. 

Well planned home working can also draw in people who find it hard to travel, are geographically isolated or are simply in an area with higher unemployment, such as the North East. Home working, by definition, cuts out the expensive and time-wasting commute and helps to take pressure off of the transport network.

These ways of working do not suit everybody, but it would be easy to find enough willing volunteers. There is a big appetite for more home working and flexible working that is still to be met.

Employers should also think more about active workplace travel planning. This could mean encouraging car-sharing, walking, cycling and public transport, as well as building in flexible working and home working.

But it’s not just about motivating staff and making the organisation work better. It would also be in many managers interest to act, since they are quite often the people who have the longest commutes. 

Almost one in five managers spend over two hours a day just travelling to work and back. That’s 478,000 managers spending the equivalent of at least a quarter of a day commuting, so there are a lot of decision makers with a lot to gain.

Clearly smarter working could be a win for employers, staff and the country as a whole, yet progress has been far too slow. 

Rather than succumbing to the autumn commuting blues, more employers should set about starting to solve this problem. Those who do will be on their way to being employers of choice and will reap the rewards in terms of motivation and loyalty. And if smarter working was supported by more government investment in transport then we could go a long way towards getting rid of commuting gloom. 

*Source: AA Fuel Price Report: .