The railway will become more important if urbanisation slows down
If working from home continues when the pandemic has subsided, more people can probably imagine living further away from work. But a future increase in relocation from the big cities will mean that the role of the railway needs to be strengthened to meet environmental demands.
Moving to larger cities has been happening for a long time and the countryside has long seen a reduction in population. Historically, urbanisation has accelerated because of the more attractive labour market in large cities. To minimise commuting distances, homes close to the centres of the largest cities became desirable. An increased influx of people and a rate of construction that did not match demand have generated price increases that have made it more difficult for more people to move to large Swedish cities.
But since the outbreak of the corona pandemic in Sweden in the spring of 2020, we have seen how life has changed and how people have been encouraged to isolate themselves, reduce travel and work from home. Some companies expect that current working conditions where many people work from home most of the time will remain even after the pandemic has begun to subside.
It is currently difficult to say what the consequences for working life will be, but one guess is that we will no longer need to have the same presence or proximity to work. In that case, when the need for extra work space and larger housing increases, people will be able to move out of the big cities to a greater extent. In smaller towns, buyers get more living space at a reasonable price, which will also lead to a regional expansion between smaller towns and large cities if there are well-functioning railway connections.
For environmental reasons, it is not desirable for most people, as a result of a possible increased relocation from large cities, to use their car to travel to their workplace when they are needed in person. Car journeys that start in the metropolitan regions today make up about 10 percent of all car traffic in the country, while about 2 out of 3 car journeys are longer journeys of more than 30 kilometres.
This indicates a risk that people who move outside the big cities may also increase their car use. When travelling to and from work, the train is a better alternative than the car as it has less environmental impact and the journey can be used for both work and relaxation.
To make it easier for more people to settle outside the big cities and increase the possibility of train travel, the following needs to be done:
- Review the tax deduction for travel to and from work. Redo the model that is currently based on the time taken to enable any deductions and instead, focus on distance in working out who can take advantage of the deduction. This means that more people may consider settling in the countryside or taking a job that is further away.
- Invest in the railway. Both the state, region and train companies should map where people move and ensure that travel opportunities exist. Regions are generally calling for investment in rail. There is more demand for rail than buses because this mode of transport is considered to be more attractive and convenient, as well as able to deal with the issue of crowding on board, which will continue to be a focus for travellers despite the fact that approved vaccines have been developed.
- Create flexible ticketing solutions that reduce the need for journey planning. To facilitate commuting between smaller towns, simplified ticket handling is required, which means tickets that are not restricted for specific departures, that are sold at a fixed price, or require seat reservation.
We need a vibrant Sweden outside Stockholm, Gothenburg and Malmö, and the pandemic has hopefully accelerated some movement out of our largest cities. The railway is the glue that holds our elongated country together and, at the same time, reduces the environmental impact of a possible reduction in future urban living. Therefore, more investment is required to facilitate both a move to the countryside and the development of the railway.