Our directory of things of interest

University Directory

Ways to Work - Mapping the UK’s commuting choices

  • Written by  Benjamin Hennig
  • Published in Mapping
Ways to Work - Mapping the UK’s commuting choices
26 Nov
How do you usually travel to work? Question 41 in the last UK Census asked employed people to indicate which mode of transport they used for the longest part of their usual journey to work. In combination with information about participants’ home and workplace, this resulted in a dataset of travel-to-work patterns

The Census documents approximately 2.4 million trips between respondents’ homes and workplaces generalised at so-called Middle Layer Super Output Areas (MSOAs), a statistical unit that geographically organises the Census outputs. Due to slightly different approaches to the Census, this data is only available for England and Wales.

Stay connected with the Geographical newsletter!
signup buttonIn these turbulent times, we’re committed to telling expansive stories from across the globe, highlighting the everyday lives of normal but extraordinary people. Stay informed and engaged with Geographical.

Get Geographical’s latest news delivered straight to your inbox every Friday!

Normal Map

The resulting geographic patterns of these work-related interactions show the dominating commuting patterns. In a normal map (shown above), this draws a picture of the geographic distribution of towns and cities as the main destination of commuters in a cobweb of commuter belts that surround these places. London dominates this map, from where sub-centres are concentrically spread out, before the larger cities in the other regions take over the main commuter travels.

The larger cartogram pictured below re-imagines these patterns by providing a population-weighted perspective of people’s ways to work. This and the individual maps later on are gridded population cartograms where each area is proportional to the number of people who live there, with the larger map below combining major modes of transport, giving the dominating mode in each area most prominence.

Main Cartogram

The following smaller cartograms dissect these different journeys into (from the top) driving, buses, cycling and walking. In order to declutter the myriad of flows in the data, connections of below 25 journeys between two different MSOAs are filtered out entirely, and lower magnitude connections are generally shown in thinner lines than more frequently mentioned flows. This makes it possible to see which connections dominate where.

Subscribe to Geographical today for just £38 a year. Our monthly print magazine is packed full of cutting-edge stories and stunning photography, perfect for anyone fascinated by the world, its landscapes, people and cultures. From climate change and the environment, to scientific developments and global health, we cover a huge range of topics that span the globe. Plus, every issue includes book recommendations, infographics, maps and more!

web smaller Map Series 1

Driving dominates widely in rural to urban commuting flows. But it is interesting to observe that outside London driving dominates work journeys extensively, even in the denser populated urban areas of the Midlands and the North. Commuting by train and metro (as shown in the large map) is more dominant in London. The most common non-individual transport across England and Wales within the most densely populated areas are bus journeys. And while walking is a common occurrence for shorter ‘commutes’ in many central locations, cycling patterns are more common only in the relatively smaller towns and cities (apart from London). Places such as Oxford, Cambridge, Bristol or York display some observable cycle commutes, whereas in larger areas they appear less noticeable, even when the focus is put on the most densely populated less-rural areas.

web Smaller Map Series 2

Recent debates about the impact of individual transport on the environment and on people’s health has started to make people rethink their transport choices. Yet, changing behaviour also requires measures to encourage people to switch. Better and safer cycleways, and more reliable and affordable trains outside the capital area are needed if we want to see some of these patterns change in future Censuses.

• Benjamin Hennig (@geoviews) is Professor of Geography at the University of Iceland and Honorary Research Associate in the School of Geography and the Environment at the University of Oxford. He is also involved in the Worldmapper project: worldmapper.org

geo line break v3

Free eBooks - Geographical Newsletter

Get the best of Geographical delivered straight to your inbox by signing up to our weekly newsletter and get a free collection of eBooks!

geo line break v3

Related items

NEVER MISS A STORY - Follow Geographical on Social

Want to stay up to date with breaking Geographical stories? Join the thousands following us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram and stay informed about the world.

More articles in PLACES...


A new device, developed at ETH Zurich, could help communities…


A new initiative to save mangrove forests in the Dominican…


The semi-autonomous Russian republic of Kalmykia sits at the forefront…


In Mogadishu, the troubled capital of Somalia, tentative moves towards…


Researchers have predicted the birth of a new mountain range,…


Archaeological work around Lake Malawi suggests that humans manipulated the…


Maida Bilal risked all to prevent contractors building a dam…


Writer and photographer John Gilbey needed a cheap way of…


An EU project has revealed the extent of river fragmentation…


A new, double-sided world map projection seeks to minimise the…


 Water scarcity is predicted to rise – two experts share…


New collaborative research from the University of Oxford and the…


Conceived during the late 1800s, Letchworth Garden City was the…


Multiple failed attempts to build on a patch of land…


New 'deep learning' technology is helping to identify trees in…


The land around the Kinabatangan River in the state of…


Highlights from the column that keeps you connected with the…


At the end of a perplexing and thought-provoking year, we…


The city of Mosul is slowly putting itself back together…