In a paper in Area, Chris Banister and Nick Gallent analysed trends in commuting using census data from 1981 and 1991.
From the perspective of environmental sustainability, the patterns they discovered were worrying: commuting trips and trip lengths had risen, the proportion of commuter journeys made by car had increased by 21 %, while walking and cycling had fallen by 23 %.
At the same time, the analysis revealed that there were many opportunities for increasing the use of sustainable transport. Many commuting journeys were considered to be within cycling or walking distance.
Some time after this data was collected, it appears that the prospects for sustainable transport are improving.
This summer saw the launch of a Cycle Hire scheme in central London. For a small membership fee and usage charge, members of the scheme have access to 5,000 bicycles at 315 docking stations around the city.
The past few months have demonstrated the popularity and usefulness of the scheme. During a strike on the London Underground on 8th September, 24,000 journeys were made using the bikes (5,960 more than usual, according to Transport for London).
It seems then that there is no reason not to expand to scheme. However, in the journeys that we currently make there may be many practical reasons for travelling by car, bus, train or on foot.
As a discipline, geography has a role in examining the circumstances of different places and people that affect our decisions to use particular modes of transport. Banister and Gallent argue that understanding these local situations and processes is key to the future development of sustainable transport.