Case study

Commuting trends

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Author: Thomas Murphy, University of Leeds, in collaboration with Leeds colleagues John Stillwell, Lisa Buckner and Kirk Harland

Date: 2 June 2014

Type of case study: Research

About the research

Do age, gender and ethnicity influence the commuting choices of people across the UK?

This research has two broad aims. Firstly, it investigates how commuting to work in the UK varies by socio-demographic characteristics at a national scale. Secondly, it investigates how the commuting behaviour of these socio-demographic subgroups varies by region across the UK.

The study analyses aggregate data, interaction data and microdata from the 2001 and 2011 UK Censuses to investigate changes in socio-demographic and spatial commuting behaviour and patterns over the 10-year period. The project is still in progress, however there have already been some preliminary findings.

In the first phase of the research, the researchers looked at census data related to the type of transport used for commuting to work. The findings identified changes in commuting behaviour between 2001 and 2011, most notably in the homeworking, train, bus and car categories: There was a 16 per cent increase in the share of employees working from home and a 22 per cent increase in employees commuting to work by train. On the other hand, there was 3 per cent decrease in the share of employees commuting by bus, a 2 per cent decrease in employees commuting to work by car, and a 21 per cent decrease in employees commuting as a passenger in a car.

These findings have already informed policy suggestions which could eventually be implemented by regional or local governments, or any other organisation with a responsibility to supply and maintain transport networks.

In the second phase of the project the researchers will investigate how these identified changes depend on socio-demographic factors such as gender, age, ethnicity and occupation.

About the data

This research draws on aggregate, flow and microdata from the UK Census for the years 2001 and 2011.

The researchers used quantitative techniques to analyse multiple datasets at multiple spatial levels in order to gain an in-depth understanding of commuting behaviour and patterns in the UK and how they changed between 2001 and 2011.

The research is policy oriented with the findings being used to support those in authority with the responsibility of supplying and maintaining transport networks across the UK.


The research is making use of aggregate data, interaction or 'flow' data and microdata from the UK Censuses of 2001 and 2011.

Age, gender, ethnicity, commuting distance and mode of transport are the five main variables that are being used for disaggregate data analyses. Specific methods employed include:

  • binary logistic regression for the SARs microdata
  • GIS mapping, in the form of choropleth and flow mapping, for the aggregate and interaction data
  • micro-simulation modelling, which will be used to estimate the magnitude and pattern of disaggregated commuting flows disaggregated by socio-demographic characteristics at the local level in 2011

These specific methods are in addition to the basic mathematical and descriptive statistical techniques used across all of the datasets.

Publications and outputs

Murphy, T., Stillwell, J. and Buckner, L. (2013) ‘Commuting to work in the United Kingdom: Definitions, concepts, trends and patterns’, Working Paper 13/1, School of Geography, University of Leeds, Leeds. Retrieved 30 May 2014 from

In addition, this research has been presented at a number of conferences and meetings:

  • International Geographic Union Conference (2013), Leeds
  • ARUP (2014), ARUP Headquarters, London
  • GIS Research UK (GISRUK) Conference (2014), University of Glasgow
  • Applied Geography Conference (2014), Tel Aviv, Israel
  • Royal Geographical Society Conference (2014), Royal Geographical Society Headquarters, London
  • British Society for Population Studies Conference (2014), University of Winchester
  • European Transport Conference (2014), Goethe University, Frankfurt, Germany

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