Monday, 12 July 2010

Stay at home? Now that’s what I call a transport policy!

The news that our new Coalition Government is looking at ways to encourage flexible working as a means of easing road congestion is a glint of light at the end of a very long transport tunnel.

The Government is floating the idea that employers will allow staff to work from home one day in every ten, which will ease congestion on the roads during rush hour, reduce carbon emissions and help our work/life balances.

However, there are other reasons why this is an idea whose time has come. Frankly, we can’t afford as a nation to upgrade the road and rail network when we are already in hoc to the tune of circa £360 billion. And, for that matter, why should we when technology nowadays allows access to information and networking capabilities which were not around as little as ten years ago.

My view for some time has been that our typical office-based working arrangements are unsustainable, with large numbers of the population trying to get to the same place on the same roads or rail services at the same time. In future, I suspect that the office will become more of a hub with meeting rooms and hot-desking facilities where individuals come for internal meetings, planning sessions and client liaison before disappearing back to their own homes to get on with the work.

How will the Government encourage this sort of working arrangement? My guess is via some sort of tax break for companies that encourage home working, but your guess is as good as mine as to how this can be policed. Of course, this won’t work for every sector, but there are plenty of industries where a more flexible attitude could be encouraged and I suspect the naysayers can be brought round by the offer a tax cut .

The key point is that a combination of austerity measures, environmental targets and a creaking road and rail network has led our new Government to look seriously at what many think-tanks and interest groups have been saying for some time. For those of us who despaired at the last Government’s failure to come up with an integrated transport policy (one suspects it was filed under “too difficult”) this is a welcome step in the right direction.