ONS releases Census 2021 travel to work data
The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has today released the results of the travel to work data gathered by Census 2021 for England and Wales.
The findings show that 569,000 people said they usually travelled to work by bicycle, or 2% of residents aged 16 and over in employment.
While this represents a drop compared to the findings of Census 2011, when 741,000 working residents were found to cycle to work (2.8%), Census 2021 also reveals a marked drop in commuting by car or van too.
In 2021, 12.5 million people said they usually travelled to work by driving (45.1%), and a further 1.1 million as passengers (3.9%). These figures were higher in 2011, with 15.3 million people (57.5%) driving to work by car or van, and a further 1.4 million (5.1%) commuting as passengers.
Importantly, though, Census 2021 took place during the Covid-19 pandemic, so these results must be seen in the context of the repercussions of lockdown and furlough.
This significantly impacted people’s travel behaviour and the way they answered the Census travel to work questions. This means that the findings are not particularly surprising, and caution must be exercised in comparing them directly with 2011.
Local and national governments must do more to make cycling to work a viable and safe option for commuters, by delivering networks of high-quality cycle routes in our towns and cities
Keir Gallagher, campaigns manager at Cycling UK
Furthermore, the percentage of employed people working at or from home has risen steadily over the last 10 years, even before the pandemic.
In 2011, just under a quarter (24%) reported working from home, but the ONS estimates that this figure had risen to about 27% by 2019 and that, in the week before Census Day on 21 March 2021, the proportion had gone up to slightly more than 31%.
Nevertheless, it seems that, overall, cycling has proved itself to be a relatively resilient form of commuting to work, albeit inevitably depressed by pandemic-related restrictions on travel.
Census 2021, though, also demonstrates that riding to work is still the choice of only a tiny proportion of the working population, despite the fact that it serves two useful purposes: commuting and exercising.
The imperative to do more to tackle car-dependent commuting habits and increase levels of physical activity is also borne out by the latest findings of the National Travel Survey (England only) from the Department for Transport (DfT). These suggest that, on average in 2021, 4% of commuting trips per person were cycled, and 68% driven (as a driver or a passenger). Ten years earlier, in 2011, these figures were much the same.
Keir Gallagher, Cycling UK’s campaigns manager, said: “While the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on the workplace means we cannot meaningfully compare these statistics to previous censuses, it is clear that more needs to be done to enable people to cycle to work.
“Although separate DfT figures indicate that cycling levels have risen in England in 2022, these still represent a small fraction of journeys. Local and national governments must do more to make cycling to work a viable and safe option for commuters, by delivering networks of high-quality cycle routes in our towns and cities.”
Not only is cycling a resilient form of commuting to work, but it also offers numerous benefits to employees and employers alike, from higher levels of physical and mental wellbeing, to reduced sickness-related absenteeism and increased staff satisfaction and productivity levels.
For a number of years now, Cycling UK has been taking action to transform commuting habits by supporting and rewarding businesses for developing a cycle-friendly culture, infrastructure and policies through our Cycle Friendly Employer (CFE) accreditation scheme.
There is much that employers can do to encourage their staff to cycle to work, from installing high-quality facilities such as cycle parking, showers and lockers, to offering employee benefits such as Cycle to Work schemes.
Our CFE accreditation is an international benchmark demonstrating that a workplace values staff wellbeing and leads the pack when it comes to sustainability. To see how your business measures, you can complete a quick self-assessment today, or visit the Cycle Friendly Employer page to find out more.