Adam Martin, RAND Europe; Cambridge Centre for Health Services Research
A variety of economic, environmental, and physical health benefits are expected if more commuters were encouraged to walk, cycle or take public transport to work. Yet relatively little is known about the relationship between commuting and subjective wellbeing.
This study, which used data on 18,000 commuters in the British Household Panel Survey (BHPS), was the first longitudinal study to use a large-scale nationally-representative dataset to explore the impact on subjective wellbeing of switching from car travel to more active travel modes.
Using fixed effects models, this study provided greater support for causal inference than existing cross-sectional studies. Subjective wellbeing (mental distress) was measured using the General Health Questionnaire (GHQ12). After accounting for changes in individual-level socioeconomic characteristics and potential confounding variables relating to work, residence and health, the results showed that switching from car travel to walking, cycling or public transport improved wellbeing.
The results contradicted a cross-sectional study by the Office for National Statistics which showed a negative relationship between walking and cycling and some aspects of wellbeing when compared to driving. The positive psychological wellbeing effects identified in this study should be considered in cost-benefit assessments of interventions seeking to promote more active commute modes.