“People with longer commutes rearrange their whole week around it”

Walkers in London: these people are actually happier. Image: Getty.

I was recently led down to the basement at the Department for Transport to learn about the results of the Commuting and Wellbeing Study: a report which used existing data to understand the relationship between commuting time, travel mode and wellbeing.

The headline result of the study is that every extra minute of commute time reduces job satisfaction, reduces leisure time satisfaction, increases strain and reduces mental health. On average, 10 extra minutes of commute time has the same negative effect on life satisfaction as a £490/month loss in income. Every 10 extra minutes of commute time are also responsible for a reduction in job satisfaction equivalent to a 19 per cent reduction in gross personal income.

Walking or cycling to work, working from home and shorter commute times all increase job satisfaction, and make it more likely that an employee will want to stay with their job. So all an employer needs to do is encourage some mode shift to get happy workers, right?

Within the study, commuter mode changes were common, with 18 per cent of study participants changing mode in the past year. However, this was much less likely among car drivers. This strikes me as a problem for policy makers – as this are the group we most desperately need to change to more sustainable transport modes.

Interestingly shorter rail commutes are found to be 'more strenuous' than longer ones, which might reflect the relative discomfort of inner urban rail. Perhaps this group would be easier to help towards active travel?

People with longer commutes even rearrange their whole week around it: less sleep on weeknights, more sleep at weekends. It can take up to a year for the negative effects of a longer commute to manifest.


The study methodology ensured relationships between commuting and wellbeing are separated from other factors, such as wealth. Millennials, who we’re encouraged to think have ruined everything and don’t know how to suffer, are more resilient to a longer commutes and it does not reduce their job satisfaction as much.

Employers potentially have the most to gain from this study. Acting on it can increase job satisfaction and even leisure time satisfaction in their workers. But how can they help to shorten commutes and encourage mode shift to walking and cycling?

For larger employers, they can think about where their workplaces are located in respect of their employees. Higher business rents in certain locations might be worth the value of employee retention. For smaller employers, simple things like providing changing and showering facilities could increase active travel.  

To get the societal benefits of this study we need to see workplaces, business improvement districts and local authorities working together to ensure as many journeys as possible can be completed using walking and cycling. This means revisiting some of the assumptions that underpinned city, suburban and business park design.

Steve Chambers is policy & research coordinator at Living Streets, the charity for every day walking. 

 
 
 
 

Where did London’s parakeets come from?

Parakeets in the skies above Wormwood Scrubs, west London. Image: Getty.

Visitors to London’s many green spaces would have to be stubbornly looking at their feet to not see one of the UK’s most exotic birds.  Dubbed “posh pigeons” by unimaginative Londoners, these brilliant green parakeets stand out among the fauna of Northern Europe’s mostly grey cities.

‘Parakeets’ is actually an umbrella term referring to the multiple species, which can now be found in London, Amsterdam, Brussels, Paris and various German cities. By far the most common is the Indian ring-necked parakeet, easily recognisable by the stylish red ring around their neck, a matching red beak and, of course, the loud squawking.

In the last 50 years these migrants from South Asia have arrived and thrived, settling into their own ecological niche. In the UK, London is a particular stronghold, but although they may have originally settled in the leafy streets of Twickenham, the birds can now be found in cities as far north as Glasgow.

The story of how they ended up in London is a matter of some discussion and plenty of myth. One often reported theory is that the capitals’ current population are the descendants of birds that escaped from Shepperton Studios during filming of The African Queen, starring Humphrey Bogart and Katharine Hepburn. Others would tell you that they escaped from Syon Park in the early 1970s, when a piece of debris from a passing plane damaged the aviary and allowed them to escape. This chimes with their original concentration in South West London.
My favourite story by far is that they were released by Jimi Hendrix on Carnaby Street in the late 60s. Bored of London’s grey skyline, he set the little fellas free to liven up the place.

However they got here, from 1970 onwards their numbers boomed. In 1992, 700 birds were recorded in London Bird Report. By 1998, 2,845 were seen in the London Area, and by 2006 the ring-neck parakeet was 15th most sighted bird in London.


Darwin would be proud at how well they adapted to the new environment. Toughened up by the hard Himalayan climate, they handle the cold northern European winters better than most locals. Global warming is often brought up in discussions of the parakeets, but it is certainly only part of the story.
It helps, too, that the birds have a 35 year lifespan and few local predators, enabling them to breed freely.

As with any new species, the debate has raged about whether they are harmful to the ecosystem. Strangely reminiscent of the debate over human migrants, often the birds have often been accused of stealing the homes of the natives. The parakeets do nest in tree cavities also used by jackdaws, owls and woodpeckers – but there is little evidence that native species are being muscled out. 

The also provide a food source for Britain's embattled birds of prey. Owls and peregrine falcons have been know to eat them. Charlie and Tom, two city dwelling falcons monitored by Nathalie Mahieu, often bring back parakeets as food.
Of more concern is the new arrivals’ effect on plants and trees. By 2009 their numbers in the UK had grown so much that they were added to the “general licence” of species, which can be killed without individual permission if they are causing damage.

And Parrotnet, am EU funded research project studying the development of parakeet populations across Europe, has warned of the risk they pose to agriculture. In their native India, the parakeets are known to cause widespread damage to crops. As agriculture develops in the UK in line with warmer climates, crops such as maize, grapes and sunflower will become more popular. In India the birds have been documented as reducing maize crops by 81 per cent.

So the parakeets remain divisive. Environmentalist Tony Juniper has disparagingly described them as “the grey squirrel of the skies”. By contrast, the University of York biologist Chris D. Thomas has argued that the parakeets should be left free to move and breed. He sees those wary of the parakeet boom of “irrational persecution” of the bird.

For good or ill the parakeets are here to stay. As so often with migrants of all kinds, there has been some unease about the impact they have had – but the birds, popular amongst Londoners, certainly add colour to the city. Thriving in the urban environment thousands of miles from their natural habitat, they are a metropolitan bird for Europe’s metropolitan cities. 

Want more of this stuff? Follow CityMetric on Twitter or Facebook