Let’s kill the commute and save Wales billions
Ceri John Davies
The invitation to tender for the South Wales Metro has just gone out, and a plan for another metro for Swansea Bay is trundling over the horizon.
We’re getting a new £1bn motorway to improve a bottleneck near Newport, and there are discussions about a new bridge over the Menai Strait.
We can’t seem to escape the mass transit of people as the solution to Wales’ economic woes.
These grand transport projects require massive capital inputs, borrowing, and require a subsidy to keep them going.
You don’t hear much about this subsidy when transport plans are discussed, but let’s remember that we, the taxpayer, pay to move all these people around.
A recent report suggested that each journey on Welsh Rail had government support of £9.33.
Isn’t it about time we asked why spend so much time and energy moving people around the country?
We’re primarily a service economy and therefore much of modern work is now done on a keyboard and a screen.
My entire working career could have been done pretty much anywhere, but has mostly been spent in offices in the centre of Cardiff.
Why are we moving people in and out of increasingly built up and harder to get to city centres, to work on a screen they could have in their spare room?
This is offering 20th-century solutions to 21st-century problems.
Consider for example the new 25-year lease that HMRC have taken on the most expensive real estate in the centre of Cardiff.
This city centre glass and steel edifice will house near 4000 staff, most of which are going to have to travel in.
You will have walkers and cyclists, but a lot of them are going to drive – some perhaps from as far away as over the border, once the Severn Bridge tolls are scrapped.
But how many of those workers really need to be in the centre of Cardiff, every day of the week, to do their jobs? 10% perhaps?
I would like to outline a different vision.
I work for Indycube, a Community Benefit Society known for its co-working sites. We have a 21st century vision that I hope should make us stop and think about what we are currently doing.
Indycube is pushing forward a radical new agenda – which is that people should work from the communities where they live.
Let’s consider the advantages for a typical valleys town like Aberdare:
- The commuter would save on the cost of a train ticket to Cardiff, around £11.60, every day. That’s nearly £60 a week.
- Air quality and the quality of life between Aberdare and Cardiff would improve due to fewer people travelling between them.
- Over the course of a week, the worker would have a spare 10 hours to do things more important to society – pick their children up from school, take care of elderly relatives, and community-building.
- The local hairdresser, the florist, local shops, the bank are all more likely to stay open because of that lunchtime stroll or coffee.
- Workers would have an opportunity to reuse historical buildings in the community that had been left to decay, repurposed to house modern offices and workplaces.
So, rather than spend billions on transport in Wales, why not invest in community-owned office complexes that can then be let out to office workers from all sectors, private, public and third?
We will still need transport links. We travel for more than work, and Welsh infrastructure needs to improve, but let’s fundamentally look at what it is for.
If the plans are there to move people to jobs, let’s look again. Do we need to cut a few minutes off the journey from Swansea to Cardiff?
The state is paying billions for these projects. Why not put some of that money into communities, and return old buildings in town centres to their former glories?
It’s the 21st century and we have the tech to make this happen. Employers can see who has signed in, what they’ve been working on, even talk to them ‘face to face’ via Skype.
What’s stopping us?
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“Let’s consider the advantages for a typical valleys town like Aberdare:
-The commuter would save on the cost of a train ticket to Cardiff, around £11.60, every day. That’s nearly £60 a week.”
Anyone who commutes daily from Aberdare to Cardiff would/should buy a season ticket which costs £1,104 per year or £4.60 per day (based on working 5 days a week, 48 weeks a year).
Yeah – but that’s the paradox” isn’t it. You’ve got to HAVE money to SAVE money. If you’re short of cash and don’t have over a grand up front you buy daily or weekly tickets with less discount but at least spreading the cost and end up spending MORE overall than the person who had more money in the first place…
I fully agree that it’s frustrating that you need the money up front.
But you’d have to do that with a bus, car and tank of petrol too.
Many firms offer an interest free season ticket loan.
I would imagine most (although not everyone) would be able to get £1,110 from savings, a credit card or an overdraft.
And if you can’t then you’ll buy a weekly or monthly one.
It would be utterly ridiculous to buy a day return each and every day unless you’re a busker living day to day on your ‘earnings’
No one I know puts in a grands worth of petrol at once. And you’re otherwise, however you spin it, asking being to go into debt in order to get to work. It’s my opinion that no one should have to do that. I myself can’t afford a year bus pass in one go and take out monthly ones at £75 quid each instead of a year’s £650 because I cannot afford £650 in one month and am not prepared to go into debt for the sake of a bus pass. I find it hard to believe I’m alone. I… Read more »
I think we’re going around in circles here. I fully accept that no one will buy a grands worth of petrol in one go, but many people will buy a car that costs more than a grand – and where does that thousand pounds come from? The point I was trying to make is that it’s actually very affordable to commute into Cardiff (less than a fiver a day for what is essentially an hours train journey there and an hour back). There are many arguments for encouraging home/remote working or even just doing it one day a week if… Read more »
You seem to be completely ignoring the whole point of the piece. Why spend ten hours of your life travelling to work at your own expense, and indeed basically unpaid work related activity when it’s completely unnecessary? It’s ideas such as this that we should be championing, as it would not only improve the local economies of many places in Wales that are sorely in need of it, but also reduce the nation’s carbon footprint. It’s complete madness to shift thousands upon thousands of people to and from workplaces when most of that work could be done equally well from… Read more »
Some work can be done remotely, but how many BBC staff could work from home? Genuine question but I’m guessing less than 10%.
How many people from the shops, bars, restaurants, universities and call centers can work from home?
A big city will ALWAYS have commuters coming in during the morning peak and out during the evening. But unlike London our workers can do it for less than a £100 pcm on the train
Hogwash! Travelling to work is not unpaid work. You chose to take the job. The employer is not responsible for where you live. Take some responsibility and have some dignity.
Since one may require extra shaving gel to look professional in the job, should we now start demanding employers pay for shaving gel too?
A very thatcherite “get on your bike mentality” Capitalist and Welsh nat that ignores the consequence of such actions……..its leads to many areas of Wales become completely dead and depopulated….
People HAVE to commute as much of the Welsh economy gets focus in a few small areas….unless you could think of strategies like living above your workplace
Of course it’s unpaid work! It’s an extra amount of time added on to the working day that is of no benefit to the individual worker. I do have dignity, which is why I do a job where I work from home, and I am paid from the moment I step out from my front door when I need to travel anywhere – i.e. travel time is work time.
I also respect the dignity of other workers, and have nothing but contempt for people like you, who are just parasites.
See my later comment. Season tickets etc were in the original but edited. Focus was not just on cash but time. Valid point though
This is truly an area for rethinking how we live and how we organise our economy. Using shared office space with good facilities in towns all over the country would benefit businesses and allow a different model of working for employees – REGUS and others base their business model on renting such space out. Why not invest government money in this and create work hubs instead of propping up stressful travel with subsidies. Get work out of Cardiff and into areas of lower employment; support more rural economies. The roll out of Superfast broadband has its problems but its ambition… Read more »
What’s stopping us? The 20th century internet structure that does not match this 21c vision. If you’re advocating that public money go to nationalising communications and giving the same provision so that all can actually ‘face to face’ via Skype- then I’m with you. Otherwise this remains a SE-centric vision.
Nail. Head. “Superfast” broadbnad rollout has been a joke, in many places there isn’t even bog standard mobile reception.
It’s a fab idea – but it needs a huge investment in infrastructure in most areas to make it a goer.
The author’s words, ‘Indycube is pushing forward a radical new agenda ‘ You are pushing a political agenda for an establishment which you work for. This is not merely bad journalism, it’s openly sycophancy for the sake of boosting your own career aspirations. There is nothing wrong with boosting your own career path, not at all. We’re all self-interested in climbing to our aspirations. But to announce announce your ambitions so openly, it’s rather tactless. One does not simply announce his or her career aspirations whilst projecting political opinions, it’s naïve. And personally, I should rather not wish a world… Read more »
Shared working spaces, as described were specifically to ‘do’ remote working without having to be stuck in the house…
I work in IT, and work from home about one day a week. We have Skype, telephone, e-mail etc, but none of this is as good as being sat next door to someone, especially if you need to discuss something complicated. Remote working is very good for maintaining a good work-life balance, good for the environment etc, but (in my opinion) ultimately not as good as being in a room with the people you work with.
In response to Gareth’s suggestion that commuters from Aberdare to Cardiff should purchase a season ticket at a cost of £1,104 per annum. May I ask how much a ‘season ticket’ costs and how many journeys it pays for? I’m assuming he’s not suggesting that commuters fork out for a year’s worth of travel up front?
Hi Viv, Yes it would involve paying £1,100 up front in one go. But given the fact it saves over 50% of potential travel costs I would say it’s worth it. If you don’t have the money up front, you could put it on a credit card and spread the cost or you could budget and save to buy one next time round. I appreciate a £1,100 is a lot of money. But what would you rather do pay £1,100 today or (as the author of this piece suggests) pay £2,784 gradually over the next 365 days? If paying £1,100… Read more »
Some overlap with my earlier comment – but I think you may not have a full awareness or empathy for people’s financial situation – the people who don’t have the cash for the upfront payment are the same people who are likely to struggle to get credit. And as for “they might need some education” – well maybe – but you really think encouraging people with already poor financial literacy down the route of credit is a good idea? If people are required to get into debt for the sake of getting to work, then it just shows how very… Read more »
If it’s through a credit union or a 0% balance transfer then yes I would.
Of all the cars stuck every monirng in a queue on the A470 how many have been bought/leased on credit? The majority I’d say. Taking the train is cheaper than driving.
I’ve worked on transnational projects and, naturally, this type of working is the norm. Of course there are face-to-face meetings but day-to-day Skype, email etc. is more than sufficient. My quality of life improved exponentially and, in general, it was far, far less stressful. There is still pressure, deadlines, strict accountability but without the hellish journey at each end of the working day. I don’t know anyone that works like this who would go back to the daily commute and being crammed in an air-less office surrounded by other people… most of whom they find irritating.
Hi Gareth. Everything you say is right but I am mindful that some commuters might have just gained new employment after being unemployed for some time and wouldn’t be able to get a credit card to spread the cost. I also noticed that the article states that the tax payer is currently subsidising rail travellers to the tune of approximately £9.33 for each journey on Welsh Rail. Given the choice I’d prefer my tax contribution was spent on something else. It’s good to have discussion on these matters pertaining to Wales and I’m glad that Nation.Cymrugives a voice to a… Read more »
I fully accept that not everyone has £1,100 to spend, and not everyone will get credit (although although most people would) and many (but not all) firms also offer interest free season tickets. Even if you are starting from nothing buying a weekly/monthly season ticket on day 1 will save you a lot of money (and time) compared to buying a ticket each day. You mention the public subsidy of £9.33 per journey – that’s obviously an average and not an exact science and the amount for a top to bottom valley commute will be below that. Are you really… Read more »
nationalising the railways would be zero cost, as they are on franchises, so all that needs to be done is to wait until the current franchise is over, and then not renew it, and let the state take over. Simples. There are of course costs such as infrastructure and rolling stock, but not even the priviatised companies own the rolling stock, they lease it. As far as subsidies go, I think at the moment the taxpayer is subsidising the private companies profitability, as at the moment the model is that profits are privatised whilst the losses are nationalised – crazy!… Read more »
I suppose you are in favour of nationalising farms too?
A real capitalist, as opposed to one wedded to an extreme ideology, will recognise a situation where profitability is a contrived outcome rather than a natural outcome of adding value. The Train Operating Companies achieve contrived profits by securing an excessive transfer of funding from Government into their coffers. As stated above there is actual evidence that a service in public ownership can produce better results for the user and the provider ( tax payer ). Much the same can be said of bus services, where they still exist.
I’d like to see a radical shake up of the system that sees those who work on the land control it, rather than be tenants to landowners, but as for nationalising? It depends what you mean by that term. If it means that industries are controlled by those who work in them, then the answer is yes, but if it is to be the state then I’d be a lot more cautious, though anything that eradicates the parisitism of the rentier class is desirable I think.
Correct. And then, when the state owned company got the service back into being well run and profitable it was promptly re-privatised.
Pure Tory ideology as you say.
The nigh on 49 year ‘experiment’ with neo-liberal economics has been largely ideology driven. All predicated on the mantra that ‘greed is good’ and that we don’t have any responsibility towards our fellow citizens. All this coming from people who profess to be Christian!
should read “40 year experiment”. Though neo-liberal economics have their origins much earlier than 1979/80 when they became mainstream under Thatcher and Reagan.
For me the time saving element is the strongest argument. Unless you work in an industry that produces pollution, I can’t see why you wouldn’t want to work closer to home.
Time is more a central theme in the. original.
Anyone heard of North Wales ?
The example given in the article is from the South, but I can’t see why this wouldn’t work in the North. If anything, the North needs a model like this to get work out of the South and spread around the country.
There is an original article on my linked in page and it looks wider than just the south. The picture is Newtown in mid Wales and it looks wider. The idea is pan wales and even pan uk bit focuses on an area I am more familiar with and about to have a billion pound plus investment. Nation have done a great edit so no criticisms from me but consider it wider than just south.
You mean like leaving the 450 HMRC jobs in Wrexham where they are desperately needed instead of transferring them to Cardiff where they are not. As Ceri says, how incredibly STUPID is it that this transfer was even considered (not forgetting the 450 from Swansea as well). And then, to make the even more STUPID decision to lease a brand new building in the centre of Cardiff, the most expensive place in Wales, thus lumbering the tax payer, us, with a permanent, ongoing extra cost. And the only logical reason I can come up with why the Labour Government decided… Read more »
Mad isn’t it! This should be big news, it really is scandalous.
Especially as much of H.M.R.C ‘s work is now conducted via e-commerce. The silly fixation on expensive buildings just does not relate to their needs yet Government in Cardiff and London carry on as though they were in the pockets of property developers ( they aren’t, are they ?? ). Running H.M.R.C through a network of smaller localised cells would also make it more accessible and current employees would not have to worry about relocation and other disruptions.
That would make perfect sense, indeed, why can’t all government services be decentralised and accessible for face-to-face contact with the citizenry?
I wrote this as a discussion piece. Great to see people interested and commenting. Happy to talk through a number of the points @cerithepirate. Or even a coffee
Key points are that the original draft addressed some of these issues like the season ticket but nation edit the year haven’t made it. It’s a good edit too and am glad they did it.
As for a political agenda and career, not at all. We are trying to do this anyway on a small scale but I’m suggesting that may not be enough. It’s for discussion.
I’m all for avoiding a commute, and working from home some of the time – I’m happy to be able to do so myself, saving my cross-border commute (from Shropshire into Powys) whenever I do so. Sometimes, though, there’s no substitute for meeting with one’s colleagues face to face, and even if one doesn’t need to travel to work there are always other reasons for travel – recreation, family, delivery of goods, and so on. Hence it would be quite wrong to use the advent of high-speed internet communications as an excuse for skimping on road and rail connectivity, and… Read more »
I’m not convinced that we need to abandon plans for railways etc, just yet. Maybe one day we will get a doctor to diagnose and conduct remote surgical techniques without anyone leaving their homes, maybe the wings at Broughton will be made without a single worker needed on site, maybe the steel works at Port Talbot will be full of robots floating around like a scene from a Ridley Scott movie, maybe kids will go to virtual indoor play areas and blow out virtual candles at birthday parties. All these things can and may happen, with articial intelligence and the… Read more »
Well, yes. I think that this consideration, amongst others was an inspiration for William Morris’ ‘News from Nowhere’ where society got to a point where almost everything was automated and a decision was made to bring people back into the frame.
Once everything is automated, Thatcher’s claim that there is no such thing as society will have become realised. There will be no real need for people either, indeed, people would be something of an inconvenient nuisance!
If it’s not about people, then what is it about?
Will have to read that. While surfing “People First” I found this amusing:
[Friends of the Earth Director Magda Stoczkiewicz, on behalf of the organisations, said: “It is time for the EU to lead an agenda of transformational change that puts the health and interests of people and the planet first.]
Putting both People and the Planet jointly first? I just thought that might present a few people with a number of conundrums?
Study after study concludes that commuting is bad from the health of the commuter and for the productivities of businesses. Network Rail forecast journeys to and from Cardiff Central to increase from 13 million to 33 million a year by 2043. Why? What is this dystopia? How is this expansion of commuting compatible with the objectives in The Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act 2015? There are 2 principle groups of beneficiaries of public investment in transport infrastructure. One is the unmanageable ecosystem of multinational public and private businesses which maintain and expand the transport infrastructure who demand ever increasing… Read more »
Commendable idea, well done for promoting it here. However, this is an idea which has been around since the mid 1990s, and goes under various names such as “smart city”, “sustainable city”, “green city”. (Google “Smart and Digital City: A Systematic Literature Review” by Annalisa Cocchia). Google also for “smart city” AND Wales. You will see that only Cardiff in mentioned, and in the context of “it is being discussed”. Funnily enough, London is second on the IESE ranking list. Effectively, minimising private vehicular traffic by a) providing suitable mass transport; b) encouraging walking, cycling etc c) making remote working… Read more »
I agree that in Wales we have a Government that is not prepared to act. I do believe we have some opposition, but it’s opposition comes down to either sniping, or campaigning for slight modification. Possibly the reason they get away with it is that the people living in Wales seem not to care about politics, but especially Welsh politics. I suppose that could be down to lack of media coverage, but also a lack of Welsh civic identity.
Oh Dear! What will happen to all those team managers, office managers, jobsworthies, HR vampires, tea/coffee/sandwich machines? As someone with a physical disability Gordon Brown’s world wide web thing has been and is a God Send. Do I need to interact with colleagues and/or customers for my business? Yes, if I must and I use a thing called a telephone or Skype (fully dressed wearing trousers). I also meet clients in ‘my office’ which is a local comfortable hotel/cafe/bistro where they do decent food and coffee. We still need factories where things are made, mass assembly areas and arenas but… Read more »
I think few factories will have actual human workers, as they will largely be automated.
Spare room – sorry mate, i’m a member of the precariat: i’m not allowed a spare room. the fascist spare-room tax and all that.
Actually, the rest of the article, given the present paradigm, is common sense, but just remember, not all of us have the capital, social or otherwise to take part in a rich man’s world.
The idea is sound, the reality is somewhat different. I work in the office 3 days a week, working from home the other two days as I have a round drip commute of 80 miles. The thought of either working from home or being the only person in a community office hub fills me with dread. Many people actually enjoy being in an office and forming friendships – let’s be honest, you spend more time with your work colleagues than you do with friends. Some people are able to work autonomously, with no drop in productivity when there is no… Read more »