Claim the Commute
17 June 2021
At a glance:
- The current debate around public transport and commuting in the UK predominantly revolves around the issue of ownership and the steady rise in commuting fares that we’ve seen over the past ten years. The debate has failed to seriously engage with the question as to who should bear the burden of its costs.
- This question has now arisen with new significance, as the Covid pandemic has provoked mass remote working and a vast reduction in commuting numbers. As lockdown measures begin to recede, the question as to who should pay for the commute is open.
- Commuting is fundamentally a utility for both the worker, the employer and wider economic performance.
- The cost burden of commuting is unevenly and unethically distributed amongst the beneficiaries of this utility. These costs are financial, environmental and also pertain to health and wellbeing. In the majority of cases, commuters pay the fare, take the time and bear the brunt of the health costs.
- These costs should therefore be understood as ‘hidden taxes’: they fall disproportionately on commuters and on the public purse, and benefit employers.
- This report puts forward a relatively simple ‘Claim the Commute’ scheme as a solution to this problem.
- ‘Claiming the Commute’ requires employers to pay for half of the commuting costs of their workforce that pertain to (more environmentally-friendly) modes of transport.
- Such a scheme would save the working population billions of pounds every year, and will help rein in out of control transport fares. Up to 20 million workers would see increases in real incomes.
- Claiming the commute in this manner will incentivise more environmentally-sustainable transport, it will improve workers’ real income significantly and it will help achieve financial equality amongst the beneficiaries and users of transport services.
- Polling by Survation, commissioned at the start of this project, showed that 53% of people support employers paying a part of commuting costs.
Will Stronge, Director of Research at Autonomy, said:
“Commuting is not free time, but an activity that we all are forced to do in order to turn up for our employers.
“In the context of Covid, there is added danger and stress for employees, who might be forced back onto public transport by firms, and who will now be paying even higher fares for the inconvenience.
“As in other parts of the world, there is a strong argument that employers should pay their fair share and compensate for the time and rip-off costs associated with the daily commute to work.”
This project was supported by the Alex Ferry Foundation and the Guerrilla Foundation.