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Census reveals details of how we travel to work in England and Wales

Released: 13 February 2013 Download PDF

An additional 2011 Census table is released today, covering methods of travel to work, which complements the table released on 30 January.

Its findings are discussed in The Office for National Statistics’ (ONS) publication, ‘Method of travel to work in England and Wales 2011’, now available on the ONS website. This includes the most significant trends in workers’ use of cars and vans, buses and coaches, trains, bicycles and walking – and the growing percentage of the population who said they worked at or from home.

Here are some highlights from this paper. (Please note that this part of the press release covers the table released on 30 January.)

Travelling to work in England and Wales

  • In the 2011 Census, driving was the most common form of commuting to work, used by 15.3 million people (57.5 per cent of the working population).

  • A further 1.4 million people (5.1 per cent) got to work as passengers in cars or vans, giving a vehicle occupancy rate of 1.09 persons per vehicle.

  • In 2011, 4.3 million people (16.4 per cent) travelled to work by public transport.

  • Of those using public transport, almost 2 million (7.3 per cent) commuted by bus or coach.

  • Some 2.8 million people (10.7 per cent) walked to work.

  • Trains were used by 1.4 million people (5.2 per cent), and a further 1.0 million people (3.9 per cent) commuted by light rail.

  • Almost 0.8 million (2.9 per cent) cycled to work

Travelling to work in the English regions and Wales

  • In 2011, London had the highest proportion of workers commuting by public transport (49.9 per cent). They used light rail (22.6 per cent), bus or coach (14.0 per cent) and train (13.3 per cent).

  • Outside London, public transport use ranged from 6.3 per cent of workers in the South West to 13.1 per cent in the North East.

  • London had the lowest proportion of commuters by car, taxi or motorcycle (31.4 per cent).

  • Outside London, the South East (66.8 per cent) had the lowest proportion using these methods, while Wales (75.2 per cent) had the highest.

  • South Staffordshire was the local authority with the highest proportion of people driving to work (75.5 per cent), while Newham had the highest proportion of people commuting by public transport (65.5 per cent).

  • Walking or cycling to work was least common in the West Midlands (11.9 per cent), and most common in the South West (17.1 per cent).

Home working

  • 1.4 million people (5.4 per cent) said that they worked mainly at or from home.

  • Home workers ranged from 3.7 per cent in the North East to 7.0 per cent in the South West.

Changes since 2001 in the way commuters travelled to work

The rest of this press release quotes figures available in the additional table CT15, released today.

This table allows comparisons of 2011 Census data to be made with 2001 Census data. This has been made possible by ONS re-analysing 2011’s results for the question ‘How do you usually travel to work?’ by applying the coding used in 2001. 

This new table allows commuting changes between 2001 and 2011 to be meaningfully compared and assessed, including the growth in home working, which otherwise would not be possible. Please note however that the following figures for 2011 do not match the figures published on 30 January, and should be used only when making comparisons with 2001.

The most significant results for England and Wales were:

  • A fall in the percentage of commuters driving to work: from 55.2 per cent in 2001 to 54.2 per cent in 2011.

  • A decrease in the proportion commuting to work as passengers in cars or vans: 6.3 per cent in 2001 falling to 5.0 per cent in 2011.

  • The proportion of people working mainly at or from home increased from 9.2 per cent in 2001 to 10.7 per cent in 2011.

  • The North East (2.3 percentage points) and Wales (2.4 percentage points) saw the largest decreases in passengers.

  • A decrease in the vehicle occupancy rate for cars and vans from 1.11 in 2001 to 1.09 in 2011.

  • Wales and the North East have had the largest decreases in vehicle occupancy rate. Wales decreased to 1.10 in 2011 from 1.15 in 2001, while the North East decreased to 1.12 in 2011 from 1.17 in 2001.

  • Five of the English regions and Wales saw an increase in drivers to work. The North East had the largest growth (3.2 percentage points).

  • The proportion of people driving to work in London decreased (from 33.5 per cent in 2001 to 26.3 per cent in 2011).

  • Boston was one of only four local authorities to see an increase in those getting to work as passengers in cars and vans (3.2 percentage points).

  • An increase in the use of train and light rail services. Commuting by train increased from 4.1 per cent in 2001 to 5.0 per cent in 2011. Use of light rail increased from 3.0 per cent in 2001 to 3.7 per cent in 2011.

  • The City of London had the sixth largest percentage point increase in home working (at 4.5 percentage points), though rural local authorities usually had the largest proportional increases in home working. The South East (2.2 percentage points) and the South West (2.1 percentage points) were the regions with the largest increases.

  • Just nine urban local authorities had a reduction in the proportion of people working from home; the London Borough of Newham had the largest proportional decrease (1.1 percentage points).

This table refers to figures released on 30 January 2013.

Table 1: Local authorities with the highest proportions of travel to work methods

England and Wales, 2011

  Local Authority Percentage 
Car/Van/Taxi/Motorcycle Blaenau Gwent 83.3
South Derbyshire 82.0
Cannock Chase 82.0
Torfaen 81.9
  Neath Port Talbot 81.8
Public Transport Newham 65.5
Lambeth 64.5
Wandsworth 61.4
Haringey 61.4
  Southwark 60.0
Walk City of London 48.4
Isles of Scilly 38.5
Norwich 23.8
Exeter 22.9
  Scarborough 21.9
Cycle Cambridge 29.9
Oxford 17.6
Isles of Scilly 15.9
Hackney 14.6
  York 11.4
Work from Home Isles of Scilly 13.3
Powys 13.1
West Somerset 12.8
West Devon 12.7
  Ceredigion 12.5
Other Isles of Scilly 4.3
Richmondshire 2.6
Great Yarmouth 2.5
Isle of Wight 2.3
  South Tyneside 2.0

Table notes:

  1. Source: 2011 Census - Office for National Statistics

Download table


Background notes

  1. The England and Wales census asked the same question in 2011 as was asked in 2001 (See Census Comparability Report for further details). People in work were asked ‘How do you usually travel to work? Tick the box for the longest part, by distance, of your usual journey to work’. Due to definitional differences, and because the census questionnaire is self-completed by the population of England and Wales, the census estimates of people travelling to work may differ from other sources.

  2. Due to definitional differences, and because the census questionnaire is self-completed by the population of England and Wales, the census estimates of people in employment may differ from other sources as, for example, some respondents may include voluntary work when asked about employment. The most authoritative and up to date estimates of the labour market status, including employment and unemployment, are the labour market statistics that ONS publishes monthly. The census is valuable in providing a detailed picture at the time of the census of the characteristics of the economically active population.

  3. The denominator for all percentages in this short story is the population aged 16 to 74 who were working during the week before the census day, which was on 27 March 2011. That is, it includes people who mainly work at or from home. The only exception is where comparisons are made to the National Travel Survey (NTS). The NTS does not include data on home working and therefore home workers are excluded from the 2011 Census results to allow comparison.

  4. Travel to Work is measured on the resident population. That is, the statistics presented in this short story represent how people who live in the local authority travel to work (as opposed to how people who work in the local authority travel to work).

  5. ‘Public Transport’ in this short story consists of trains, light rail, buses and coaches.

  6. Vehicle occupancy rate is the sum of drivers and passengers divided by the number of drivers.

  7. ‘Light Rail’ includes London Underground, trams (such as the Sheffield Supertram) and metro services (such as the Tyne and Wear Metro). Some people may commute to work from a second address. For example, a resident of Cornwall may have a second address in London, and may commute to work from that address by London Underground. This helps to explain why local authorities such as Cornwall, that have no light rail services, have a small number of residents who commute by light rail.

  8. This publication follows the 2011 Census Population and Household Estimates for England and Wales. The census provides estimates of the characteristics of all people and households in England and Wales on census night. These are produced for a variety of users including government, local and unitary authorities, business and communities. The census provides population statistics from a national to local level. This short story discusses the results for England and Wales.

  9. 2001 Census data are available via the Neighbourhood Statistics website. Relevant table numbers are provided in all ONS publications.

  10. Interactive data visualisations developed by ONS are also available to aid interpretation of the results.

  11. Future releases from the 2011 Census will include more detail in cross tabulations, and tabulations at other geographies. These include wards, health areas, parliamentary constituencies, postcode sectors and national parks. Further information on future releases is available online in the 2011 Census Prospectus.

  12. ONS has ensured that the data collected meet users' needs via an extensive 2011 Census outputs consultation process in order to ensure that the 2011 Census outputs will be of increased use in the planning of housing, education, health and transport services in future years.

  13. Figures in this publication may not sum due to rounding. Maps in this document have been generated using data rounded to one decimal place.

  14. ONS is responsible for carrying out the census in England and Wales. Simultaneous but separate censuses took place in Scotland and Northern Ireland. These were run by the National Records of Scotland (NRS) and the Northern Ireland Statistics and Research Agency (NISRA) respectively.

  15. A person's place of usual residence is in most cases the address at which they stay the majority of the time. For many people this will be their permanent or family home. If a member of the armed forces did not have a permanent or family address at which they are usually resident, they were recorded as usually resident at their base address.

  16. All key terms used in this publication are explained in the 2011 Census glossary. Information on the 2011 Census Geography Products for England and Wales is also available.

  17. All census population estimates were extensively quality assured, using other national and local sources of information for comparison and review by a series of quality assurance panels. An extensive range of quality assurance, evaluation and methodology papers were published alongside the first release in July 2012 and have been updated in this release, including a Quality and Methodology Information (QMI) document.

  18. The 2011 Census achieved its overall target response rate of 94 per cent of the usually resident population of England and Wales, and over 80 per cent in all local and unitary authorities. The population estimate for England and Wales of 56.1 million is estimated with 95 per cent confidence to be accurate to within +/- 85,000 (0.15 per cent).

  19. Census results are set out in tables under Key statistics and Quick statistics:
    • Key statistics provide summary figures that cover the full range of results from the census. They are presented in a tabular format, with figures as both numbers and percentages, to allow comparison across different areas.
    • Quick Statistics contain data which refer to one variable and its response categories from a census question. Because of this, cross-tabulation is not possible at this stage.

  20. Government uses the census statistics to allocate funding for services such as education, transport and health. Policy makers in central and local government use the census to identify the needs of different communities and they are also used by commercial enterprises. It also provides the benchmark for future population estimates and for sample surveys.

  21. The next release of census data is scheduled for 19 February 2013, when Key and Quick Statistics will be published for the remaining geographies such as National Parks. Further information about each of the existing and planned census outputs is available in the online prospectus.

  22. These National Statistics are produced to high professional standards and released according to the arrangements approved by the UK Statistics Authority.

  23. For further information:

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  24. Details of the policy governing the release of new data are available by visiting or from the Media Relations Office email:

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