As technology advances within the health and fitness industry, we are more conscious than ever of our daily step count. Millions of fitness trackers and smartwatches are purchased every year in the UK and used to track daily health goals.

As we increase the time we spend on foot and riding our bikes we are unwittingly becoming part of a government-backed initiative known as ‘active travel’. A couple of years ago walking and cycling were identified as smart ways to boost the nation’s physical health. With the potential for lower emissions as short journeys in cars with internal combustion engines are replaced, you can begin to see why lots of organisations are picking up the idea and running with it. 

The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine have conducted studies on the benefits of ‘incidental’ physical activity from taking public transport on the way to work. One of which, involving more than 150,000 Britons aged between 40 and 69, includes suggestive evidence of prevention of diabetes. 

Katja Leyendecker’s recent article encouraging cycling over cars argues the importance of active travel, “Increasing active travel can improve the common good and individual well-being. Cycling reduces emissions, improves air quality, reduces noise levels, improves social and economic equity, independence, dignity and health to its users, is spatially efficient, affordable, and provides inexpensive access to work, education and other venues of public life.”

According to the Cycling and Walking Investment Strategy (CWIS), a Department for Transport (DfT) strategy paper, the government is targeting an increase in walking activity over the next 5 years. Notably, the strategy identifies the younger generation within these aims, “We will increase the percentage of children aged 5 to 10 that usually walk to school from 49% in 2014 to 55% in 2025” (fig. 1.15).

Yet some feel the targets are not aiming high enough. Referring to a recent Active Travel report from the Transport Select Committee led by Lilian Greenwood MP, Paul Tuohy, chief executive of Cycling UK, said: “Investing in safe, convenient and attractive conditions for cycling and walking is a hugely cost-effective way to deliver a wide range of benefits, and we commend MPs from the select committee for their diligence in understanding the urgency of this issue. We share the opinion of the previous transport minister that the walking target is too low; we need a new target which is much more ambitious. Interventions aimed at increasing levels of walking are very cost-effective”.

Public transport plays a massive part in active travel, as some journeys are too long a distance to replace with walking and cycling alone. By walking to and from bus stops, we are including an active ‘stage’ in our ‘trip’, to use terminology adopted by the DfT. 

By taking the car, we are far less active. We likely take a few steps out of our front door, get into the driving seat, park at the destination, and walk just a few more steps. However, by taking public transport, we walk from our front door to the bus stop or train station, which may be quite some distance apart, and then after our transportation gets us to the other end, there’s another walk to our destination. Even if our nearest bus stop is close by our home, the simple act of walking regularly is enough to help lower BMI and percentage body fat as well as lower anxiety and stress.

In Scotland, Borders Buses have launched ‘bike friendly buses’ to help those want to travel further with their bikes. Taking bikes onto trains is fairly easy in the UK, but usually impossible on the bus. The operator said: “We recognise the way we travel is changing and active travel is increasingly becoming a popular choice with people from all walks of life. As a key transport provider, we are committed to continuously tailoring our product offerings to meet those changes in travel demand.”

Cardiff City Council has also made significant steps towards Active Travel, partnering with local healthcare providers to prescribe free dockless bike hire to their patients. The scheme is the first of its kind in the UK, and it is hoped that other cities will follow suit.

From today, tech firm Passenger is helping its customers, public transport operators, to get behind active travel. Their latest app update, Evans, sees the start of encouraging app users to think about the ‘active’ parts of their journey, by including step count information in relevant places throughout the user interface.

Screenshot of new features in active travel mobile release ‘Evans’

The Evans release, named after Paralympic track and relay athlete David Evans, will enable users to see how many steps they will make when they follow a journey plan provided by the app, and how this might contribute to their daily target.

Anthony Carver-Smith, Marketing Manager at Nottingham City Transport comments:

“Taking the bus and walking to and from the bus stop is a great way to keep active as part of everyday life. Getting off a stop or two earlier or staying on a stop or two more is a great way to increase daily steps with little impact on the busy lives people lead. By including step counts in journey planning results on the NCTX Buses app, we’re showing our customers how easy it is to reach the recommended 10,000 daily steps, with some customers already playing with the app to find ways they can maximise their steps when travelling around Nottingham.”

To find out more about Passenger products, get in touch with the team.