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13 May, 2020 - 21:17 By Tony Quested

Oxbridge science and technology staff ready to cycle quickly out of lockdown

Bidwells research shows Oxford and Cambridge science & technology staff are well placed to get back in the saddle and off to work quicker and easier after the first lockdown-easing measures announced by Boris Johnson this week.

Given the importance of both these cities to the fight against COVID-19 this is a welcome head start on the impending ‘new normal’, says Bidwells research director Sue Foxley. 

The PM urged staff returning to their jobs to go by car, to walk or cycle rather than use public transport. Bidwells says Cambridge and Oxford are ready to show they are the wheel deal.

Foxley says: “As the Government seek solutions to the challenge of getting the workforce back to work over the coming months, the challenge of commuting – in particular constraints on public transport – has come to the fore. 

“Following weeks of lower transport-related pollution there is understandable anxiety to avoid nervous commuters opting for the car rather than their usual train, tube or bus. 

“The Government shares this concern, the Prime Minister requesting in his May 10 speech that ‘when you do go to work, if possible do so by car or even better by walking or bicycle.’ 

“The Government has therefore announced financial and political support for alternative modes of transport over the coming months, and perhaps a year or more. Also, Transport Secretary, Grant Shapps, has pledged £250 million for improvements to cycling and walking infrastructure.

“As businesses and organisations prepare back to work strategies, it is helpful to understand the relative starting point for locations across the UK. Bidwells has analysed commuter behaviour across all of the UK’s Travel to Work Areas. The analysis focuses on the period of October-December, one of the least popular times of year for cycling and therefore perhaps the most realistic to consider.

“London understandably sees the highest number of total commutes by bike, with approximate 154,000 work journeys during the last three months of 2019. 

“Excluding the capital, there is a more mixed picture, with some regional cities performing well, but science and tech centres, including Oxford and Cambridge, showing particularly high number of workers commuting by bike.”

The Bidwells research shows that from October to December Bristol had the most commute journeys with 27,689, followed by Manchester with 27,194, then Oxford on 25,370, Slough and Heathrow with 22,363, Cambridge on 21,288 and Edinburgh on 17,681.

Just two per cent of commute journeys, on average, are undertaken by bike based on the Q4 2019 data analysed, but some locations already perform considerably better. 

These include Oxford and Cambridge, where a cycling ethos has combined with supportive infrastructure investment and bike-friendly policies to underpin the success of some locations ahead of others.

Foxley says: “While this ONS data in based on relatively small-scale survey data at the local level, it suggests there are patterns in the type of workers commuting by bike, which also have local implications for the success of a ‘get on your bike’ back to work policy.

“Those working in the industry sectors of Education or Professional, Scientific and Technical Activities dominate bike journeys in Oxford and Cambridge. The drivers of this are likely to be part cultural but also aided by the cycle infrastructure in place across the city’s science and tech parks.”

A closer analysis of bike journeys by science & technology company employees show Oxford and Cambridge way out in front.

Oxford rules the roost on this metric with 83 per cent with Cambridge second on 59 per cent. Then comes London (47 per cent), Southampton on 45 per cent and Edinburgh on 36 per cent. Bristol is now way down the pack on this measure at 22 per cent.

Foxley says: “This has two implications. First, Oxford and Cambridge are well placed to show resilience during the coming period as we get to grips with the new normal. 

“Second, given the importance of both these cities to the fight against COVID-19 and indeed other health and technical challenges facing society, the cities can get back to work quicker and easier. 

“Clearly, there will still be problems to avoid additional car journeys which present particular challenges in such historic and popular cities. However, the existing cycling infrastructure in Oxford and Cambridge provides the locations with a head start in getting back to work.”

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