Changes to commute mode: the role of life events, spatial context and environmental attitude

Publication type

Journal Article

Published in

Transportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice


Ben Clark, Kiron Chatterjee and Steve Melia

Publication date


It has been suggested that commuting behaviours become habitual and that changes to commute mode are more likely at the time of major life events. However, evidence to support this has so far been limited to analyses of small-scale samples. To address this evidence gap, we use two waves of panel data from the UK Household Longitudinal Study (2009/10 and 2010/11) to identify and explain the prevalence of individual change in commute mode from year to year amongst a representative sample of the English working population (n = 15,200). One third of those that cycle or get the bus to work, and one quarter of those that walk to work, are shown to change commuting mode by the following year. Car commuting is more stable, with only one in ten car commuters changing mode by the following year. Commute mode changes are found to be primarily driven by alterations to the distance to work which occur in association with changing job or moving home. Switching to non-car commuting becomes much more likely (9.2 times) as the distance to work drops below three miles. High quality public transport links to employment centres are shown to encourage switches away from car commuting and mixed land uses are shown to encourage switches to active commuting (walking and cycling). Switches away from car commuting are found to be more likely (1.3 times) for those with a pro-environmental attitude. The attitude orientation is shown to precede the behaviour change, demonstrating evidence of ‘cause and effect’. Overall, the study shows that changes in commuting behaviour are strongly influenced by life events, spatial context and environmental attitude.

Volume and page numbers

89, 89-105





Environmental Sociology, Life Course Analysis, Transport and Commuting


Open Access article; Open Access funded by Economic and Social Research Council; Under a Creative Commons license; Is referenced by: Hamilton, C. (2018) ‘Written evidence submitted by Understanding Society, the UK Household Longitudinal Study (Institute for Social and Economic Research, University of Essex) (ATR0040) [House of Commons Transport Select Committee on Active Travel]’. London: Great Britain. Parliament. House of Commons. Transport Select Committee.