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The commute to work should be counted as work given most rail commuters use free Wi-Fi to catch up with work emails, according to a new study.
The University of the West of England study, to be presented today at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference is based on a survey of 5,000 passengers on two of Chiltern Railways’ major routes – London/Birmingham and London/Aylesbury. It investigates how passengers use free internet provision on their journeys.
Over a 40 week period in 2016-17, Chiltern Railways incrementally increased the amount of free Wi-Fi available to its customers on its mainline route, and around 3,000 customers were surveyed.
Results show that by the end of the 40 weeks, commuters had made the most of the rise. On the Birmingham to London route, the proportion of commuters connecting to the free Wi-Fi rose from 54% when 20MB was offered to 60% when 125MB was offered.
Interviews with respondents showed many considered their commute as time to ‘catch up’ with work, before or after their traditional working day.
The researchers, Dr Juliet Jain, Dr Billy Clayton and Dr Caroline Bartle – said this transitional time also enabled people to switch roles, for example, from being a parent getting the kids ready for school in the morning to a business director during the day.
Until now, there has been little research to evaluate the impact free Wi-Fi provision has had in the UK, despite government encouragement for companies to provide access on transport networks. The researchers looked to Scandinavia to see how commuting time could be measured differently and found that in Norway some commuters are able to count travel time as part of their working day.
Dr Juliet Jain will tell the conference: “If travel time were to count as work time, there would be many social and economic impacts, as well as implications for the rail industry. It may ease commuter pressure on peak hours and allow for more comfort and flexibility around working times. However, it may also demand more surveillance and accountability for productivity.”