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Dr Juliet Jain, Dr Billy Clayton and Dr Caroline Bartle from the University of the West of England have been analysing the uptake of free Wi-Fi on two of Chiltern Railways’ major routes - London/Birmingham and London/Aylesbury - to see how passengers use free internet provision on their journeys.

A total of 5,000 passengers were surveyed. Traditionally, the government has been more concerned about the benefits of free Wi-Fi for business travellers, but the research team believe that the impact on commuters may be more important.

Over a 40 week period in 2016-17, Chiltern Railways incrementally increased the amount of free Wi-Fi available to its customers on its mainline route, and around 3,000 customers were surveyed. Results show that by the end of the 40 weeks, commuters had made the most of the rise. On the Birmingham to London route, the proportion of commuters connecting to the free Wi-Fi rose from 54% when 20MB was offered to 60% when 125MB was offered. In comparison, connection by mobile data fluctuated around 48%.

Interviews with customers revealed why internet access was as important for commuters as business travellers. Many respondents expressed how they consider their commute as time to ‘catch up’ with work, before or after their traditional working day. This transitional time also enabled people to switch roles, for example from being a parent getting the kids ready for school in the morning to a business director during the day.

Until now, there has been little research to evaluate the impact free Wi-Fi provision has had in the UK, despite government encouragement for companies to provide access on transport networks. The researchers looked to Scandinavia to see how commuting time could be measured differently, and found that in Norway some commuters are able to count travel time as part of their working day.

Dr Juliet Jain told the conference:

“If travel time were to count as work time, there would be many social and economic impacts, as well as implications for the rail industry. It may ease commuter pressure on peak hours and allow for more comfort and flexibility around working times. However it may also demand more surveillance and accountability for productivity.”

Alan Riley, Customer Services Director at Chiltern Railways, said:
“We were pleased to help with this research; it has reinforced how Wi-Fi on trains increases productivity.”

Trains would also have to offer a good working environment including tables, power, space and good continuous connectivity for internet and phone calls, which would need investment from train operators and telecoms industries.

Some quotes from the research:

  • “It’s really important to my sanity that I can get work done on the train. I am a busy mum and I rely on that time, so I can get things done.” Katheryn, Aylesbury/London route.

  • “It's dead time in a way so what it allows me to do is finish stuff and not work in the evenings” Andrew, Birmingham/London route.

  • “It’s more a buffer rather than something I have to do and I would say that the majority of the time it’s an option for me to, you know, clear the decks for the day, relax and put work behind me more than anything else.” Alex, Birmingham/London route.



Notes to editors:

1. For further media enquiries, including press passes and interview requests, please contact RGS-IBG’s Press Officer, Giulia Macgarr, at or 020 7591 3019.

2. Dr Juliet Jain, Dr Billy Clayton and Dr Caroline Bartle’s presentation is taking place on Thursday 30th August at the Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) Annual International Conference at Cardiff University. The conference is being held from August 28 – 31. It is the largest geography conference in Europe, with more than 360 sessions and 1,300 papers being presented. Full details on the RGS-IBG Annual International Conference 2018 can be found at

3. The Royal Geographical Society (with The Institute of British Geographers) is the learned society and professional body for geography. Formed in 1830, our Royal Charter of 1859 is for 'the advancement of geographical science'. Today, we deliver this objective through developing, supporting and promoting geographical research, expeditions and fieldwork, education, public engagement, and geography input to policy. We aim to foster an understanding and informed enjoyment of our world. We hold the world's largest private geographical collection and provide public access to it. We have a thriving Fellowship and membership and offer the professional accreditation 'Chartered Geographer’.