“If I was forced to return to the office five days a week I would consider leaving my job.” The Herts commuter revolt

Lucy Neave

With the lifting of coronavirus restrictions in England probably two weeks away, the prospect of returning to offices means the revival of the daily commute.

In a push to bring back more people to town and city centres to boost the urban economy, a group of 50 business leaders, including the Canary Wharf executive chair, Sir George Iacobescu, the bosses of Heathrow and Gatwick airports, the Capita chief executive, Jon Lewis, and the BT chief executive, Philip Jansen, are calling for the government to encourage a return to the office.

The government has already attempted to cajole workers back to the office once before, before Covid cases rose again last September. While some companies, notably banks, have summoned their staff to return to HQ, others have indicated that either remote working, or a hybrid system, is here to stay. This has implications for Britain’s previously hard-worked transport networks.

Official figures from the Department for Transport show a gradual rise in recent months of public transport use across the country, with train passengers surpassing half of pre-pandemic levels. However, figures for London underground (where 40-50% of passengers have returned) suggest leisure trips have sprung back more quickly than journeys to work.

But what do commuters think? Despite the introduction of flexible tickets – in effect a part-time season ticket – the government is not anticipating a full-blown return to workplaces. We asked readers to tell us how they feel about heading back to the office.

‘I used to spend just under £5,000 a year, and never got a seat’

Fatma Mehmet, a 39-year-old manager working for a local authority, commuted from Hertfordshire to London for work for more than 15 years. “I was clocking up 60 miles a day, five days a week,” she says.

“The time you waste, commuting 10 [journeys] a week – you’ll never get it back. Since I started working from home 15 months ago, I’ve been able to invest this time into work, relationships and hobbies. I’m more productive at home, less distracted and feel well rested each day. I feel less anxious and let down by the constant disruptions I used to endure with my commute.”

Mehmet also does not miss forking out thousands of pounds a year for her train fare on the Great Northern line. “I used to spend just under £5,000 a year, and have never got a seat, so you wonder what you’re paying for. The trains were delayed at least once a week, it all seems completely unfair now and a stress I do not need in my life.Advertisement

“Flexible tickets aren’t necessarily as flexible and helpful as the train companies say they are, and the thought of commuting again fills me with fear and dread. Thankfully, my employers have been fantastic and allow a flexible hybrid model, and in future, I’d probably like to go in one day a week, at most, just for my mental health and work friendships.

“But if I was forced to return to the office five days a week I would consider leaving my job.”