How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected staff travel schemes?

How has the Covid-19 pandemic affected staff travel schemes

Need to know:

  • Employers have adapted their employee travel schemes to meet the challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic.
  • With many workforces adopting a remote-working pattern, employers must rethink how to best offer travel initiatives that are suited to their employees.
  • Cycling to work is predicted to rise in popularity as an alternative to public transport.

The health and safety risks of the Covid-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic could forever change how employees travel to work. With many workforces currently working remotely, and the possibility of hybrid workplaces, a mix of home and office working, looking likely in the future, employers  may have to look at alternatives to previous staff travel schemes

Transport for London’s Travel in London report, published in September 2020, found that road transport levels have returned to normal from May 2020, with cars and motorcycle usage reducing from 104% and 103% to 96% and 97% respectively. However, rail and tube transport has reduced drastically from 104% to 32%, meaning that people have found alternative ways to travel, where they are doing so. As a result, this could affect the benefits that employers have traditionally offered to employees, especially with an increase in employees working from home for the foreseeable future. 

Staff travel benefits

With many employees adopting a flexible-working pattern and worrying about the health concerns of returning to the office, employers could turn their focus to car schemes as an alternative to public transport for those that need to commute. Alison Bell, marketing director at Venson, says: “Businesses that have adopted a full remote-working policy across the organisation could find that they do not need individuals working at a head office, the appetite for providing company cars may change. 

“This could open up opportunities through salary sacrifice [arrangements] or car loan [schemes] that can benefit the individual in getting from location to location instead of travelling by public transport.” 

Alternatively, where employers provide groups of employees with access to a company car, a change in working arrangements may mean they review whether such schemes remain necessary.

Season ticket loans have long been a mainstay in employers’ benefits packages, but these could be put on hold for the time being as many workplaces remain closed to employees and people are reluctant to get back on public transport. A poll published by HR software provider Breathe, Posture People and HR Central, in July, found that 88% of employees are not comfortable using public transport to commute in 2020.

Employers could, therefore, benefit from adapting their travel benefits to match the needs of the current work climate, says Yovav Meydad, chief growth and marketing officer at Moovit. “Businesses may need to acknowledge that employees will not prefer to come into the office through public transport anymore,” he says. “Offering staff discounts for private hire vehicles or [bikes-for-work] schemes could ease employees’ worries around returning to the office in a safe manner. 

“There [are] many alternatives in the world of travel, however many employees still tend to choose the public [train] or bus due to accessibility and cost. The pandemic has opened up an opportunity for providers and employers alike to work together in creating a cost-effective and easy-to-use alternative option.” 

Shuttle bus hires have seen an increase in usage for those that are not able to work remotely during the Coronavirus pandemic, providing employees with safe transport to their place of work with only their co-workers to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. Employers such as Bernard Matthews have adopted this policy for the foreseeable future.

Additionally, car hire and loan schemes have seen a spike due to the pandemic, with many people using these more and for a longer period of time, Andrew Garlick, business development manager at Hitachi, says. “Employees are already moving out of London due to remote-working policies, so when it comes to travelling into work, there will be a significant shift in travel-to-work benefits. Employees that are travelling to and from locations for work are technically using their personal funds on travel. The responsibility to accommodate for this is up to the employer to avoid the rise in the grey fleet.” 

Popular travel schemes 

A bikes-for-work scheme is a popular benefit that many employees have already taken up; Employee Benefits’ Benefits research, published in May 2020, for example, found that 75% of employers offer bikes for work through optional remuneration arrangements (Opra). Will this number increase in the future? In many cases, employers could go further when it comes to promoting bike schemes to employees, says Sammy Rubin, chief executive at YuLife: “Promoting cycling to work should not only be encouraged, employers can also incentivise this through tangible rewards to promote this further. It could enable employees to access rewards for the number of times that they use their bikes to commute to work.”

Alternatively, employers could offer their employees a travel allowance to be used on a method of transport of their choice, says Bell. “Providing company cars could change forever, offering a travelling or car allowance incentive through expenses could be something that employers pick up on,” she explains. “With employee travel being much more scarce than before, businesses could offer this benefit to ensure that when employees are travelling for work, they are being fully backed financially by their business on a more ad-hoc basis.”

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Offering the flexibility of an allowance would counter remote-working policies that continue into the future. The cost of any travel that employees do have to undertake, such as external client meetings, could be claimed back this way.

Commuting faces a great shift due to the implications of the pandemic, and employers have a role to play in introducing benefits for those that still need to travel. Organisations can find safe modes of travel, as well as engaging and fun ways to both boost productivity and wellbeing for the whole workforce. Walk or run-to-work challenges, and cycling initiatives could be a positive step in the right direction in producing a healthy and safe travel benefits strategy.