Changing the dynamic of everyday Journeys
This report focuses on the benefits that might be secured if people switched from car travel to public transport and used more active travel modes for the journey to and from the railway station or bus stop.
It explores how active, or inactive, we are during this first and last mile of our commute and other everyday journeys.
It also uniquely considers running, alongside the very welcome focus on walking and cycling, as a growing, viable and largely accessible mode of active travel, in particular for this first and last mile, within its research scope.
The potential benefits of more active travel during the first & last miles include:
- Increased physical activity, which can reduce the risk of at least twenty chronic health conditions including heart disease, cancer and diabetes.
- Improved wellbeing and mental health, with studies showing that people who participate in daily physical activity are happier than their inactive counterparts and have approximately a 20-30% lower risk of depression or dementia.
- Reductions in air pollution, noise and road traffic accidents by excessive car traffic in congested areas around railway stations or bus routes.
- Less disruption to neighbourhoods around railway stations or bus routes that is caused by excessive car traffic, supporting a greater sense of place, community cohesion and positive interactions for people living in those areas.
- Cost savings, to the health service arising from reductions in ill health, and to commuters, because active modes are cheaper than car travel.
Policy makers have a series of options for promoting more active first & last miles, however evidence on their effectiveness and costeffectiveness is currently limited.
- Changes to the choice architecture, including providing car commuters with information about how to access public transport using more active modes, through a dedicated smartphone app for example.
- Non-financial incentives, including the provision of dedicated cycling infrastructure to access rail stations or bus routes. One of a number of assets that can be further enhanced is the National Cycle Network, a the UK, which is used by walkers and people cycling, as well as joggers, wheelchair users and even horse riders.
- Financial incentives, including discounts for relevant equipment, e.g. purchase of a bicycle or running gear, or rewards for walking, cycling or running.
- More interventionist policies, including banning cars and vans in certain areas.
Wi-Fi and smartphone technology have in recent years transformed the onboard public transport experience into a more productive time. Similarly, better opportunities for more walking, cycling or running as part of the first & last miles could enhance the commute experience for existing public transport users, as well as improve the attraction of public transport for people who currently commute by car.
Research suggests that large increases in walking, cycling or running as part of daily commuting has the potential to make a significant impact on the nation’s wellbeing, in terms of both momentary happiness and long-term health and wellbeing. Increases in active travel, in combination with increased public transport use, would, we hope, be supported by local and national Government agencies across the transport, health and environmental sectors. But it will also require strong leadership and a substantial, coordinated and concerted effort to deliver real change at scale.
Marathon world record holder Paula Radcliffe, who recently joined UN Environment as an Advocate for Clean Air, and an asthma sufferer since a teenager, observes “About half a billion people around the world run regularly and this figure is growing. [This]…growth in running and the general push to get our society and our children to do more exercise and we have the perfect storm brewing.”
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