Realising the benefits of Active Travel

By Jack Jarvie, Analyst

April 12, 2016   

Active TravelEvery day around 30 million journeys are made across the TfL network. Public transport is overcrowded and generally an unpleasant experience during the peak hours. So, why don’t more people travel actively around London? Health, cost and comfort are just three areas that are improved when travelling actively.

Active travel elsewhere

The Netherlands is a great example to see active travel in full swing, in particular in Amsterdam and Groningen. These cities have established an active travel culture by receiving substantial support, investment and time to get it right. The Amsterdam tourist board reports that 32% of traffic movement in the city is by bike compared to 22% by car and 16% by public transport [1].

Of course, these results aren’t achieved overnight, they are the result of different initiatives to change behaviour as well as government backing to provide active travellers with a safe and comfortable environment. For instance, Dutch children are exposed to cycling from a very young age, as cycling proficiency is mandatory in schools. As they grow older and cycle more, they can cycle alongside their parents on dedicated cycle paths, a safe distance away from other vehicles.

A health crisis

Londoners are a health conscious bunch but often it is hard for them to find or make the time to exercise. The Chief Medical Officer of the NHS recommends adults should get ‘150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise (cycling, fast walking etc) each week’ [2], this is to avoid health risks associated with a lack of physical activity. But it is currently estimated that ‘only 57% of adults in London are meeting the minimum recommended physical activity levels’ [3].

In 2015, a partnership of agencies across London (Mayor of London, London Councils, NHS England and others) jointly committed to a shared ambition that by 2020, 70 per cent of adults in London will get 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity each week.

Weaving active travel into everyday life

With the insight that a serious amount of Londoners aren’t getting enough exercise each week, the question is whether Londoners can reap the benefits of active travel and take this as an opportunity to improve their personal health? Incorporating active travel into a commute is an obvious way to do exercise without putting too much extra effort in.

This isn’t to say that people should be walking their whole journey, because most of the time that is unrealistic. But instead suggest getting off public transport two stops before they normally do, then build on that and overtime advise increasing the amount of stops they get off by.

Posters on public transport could communicate the benefits of getting off a couple stops early. A visualisation of the street above them and the landmarks they would see, an estimated amount of time it would take to walk between stops and how many calories would be burned in the process.

Using the power of digital

Lately there has been a lot of buzz around the quantified self movement as people have started proactively tracking every moment of their day to understand and quantify activities like walking, training and sleeping. There is evidence that wearable devices increase physical activity [4]. The same approach could be used to encourage active travel.

What if there was an app where you could input your normal commute but state if you would like 20 minutes a day of active travel included? The app then returns alternative routes which have in them elements of walking or cycling as part of the journey. When you complete your journey the app could give you personal information on what the benefit is for your health – e.g. the percentage you reduced heart disease by or increased life expectancy.

It does not have to stop there. This could become a real community, with users sharing stories with how they’ve incorporated active travel into their commute and the benefits they are seeing because of it.

Over to you

The points raised in this post only really scratch the surface of a very large topic. At the WAE Bootcamp – CX in a Day (in Partnership with TfL) on Thursday 14 April, participants are encouraged to explore issues and come up with ideas using customer centric design methods whilst working on the ‘Active Travel’ brief. We have invited participants from various organisations and walks of life and strongly believe the adoption of design thinking and WAE methodologies will yield fascinating results and interesting proposed solutions. Stay tuned.