‘Travel patterns’ changing as Covid-19 takes one in 20 cars off roads

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Latest official coronavirus travel statistics, released today, indicate that weekday car travel has become entrenched at no more than 95 percent of its pre-covid level. Even that may be somewhat inflated by home deliveries of takeaway meals being 17.5 percent up on pre-covid levels, the AA notes.

The Department for Transport figures show that, after the summer holiday period, one in 20 cars in effect have been removed from normal daily traffic.

In addition to this, weekend car travel has fallen closer to levels seen before the pandemic.

Following a peak in cycling in 2020, the number of trips and distance cycled per person fell back towards pre-pandemic trends.

In 2021, there was an average of 55 miles travelled per person, which was similar to pre-pandemic levels, although a greater proportion of the trips were for leisure purposes, and a smaller proportion were for commuting trips.

Meanwhile, while national rail travel has recovered to below 90 percent of normal, bus travel outside London continues to struggle to get to 85 percent of its pre-pandemic level.

Edmund King, President of the AA, said that the legacy of Covid had shaken up UK travel patterns.

He put this down to more people working from home leading to less people commuting, as well as more home deliveries by car and bike. He explained more change could follow.

He added: “While the former may become ingrained, increased home deliveries of takeaways face the challenge of higher inflation and customers struggling with their budgets.

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“With petrol retailers stubbornly refusing to bring the pump price down to the 160p a litre it should be, averaging 167p instead, a five-mile car trip with a fuel consumption of 25 miles per gallon in rush-hour traffic costs £1.52.

“Without inner-city parking costs, and with much less hassle when sitting on a bus and the time to catch up on emails and social media, this may be a chance to inspire another change in travel patterns – while reducing congestion and improving the environment.”

Mr King also highlighted the Government’s recent announcement of a £2 bus fare cap in January for three months.

He said it could be “an interesting test” if linked to park and ride facilities on the outskirts of major towns and cities.

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Cambridge have implemented a “hugely successful” park and ride scheme with a £3 round trip, which has converted millions of commuter car journeys into bus trips.

A number of European countries have also introduced schemes to get people back onto public transport and cut down on car traffic.

Germany introduced a €9 (£7.79) ticket which allowed people to travel on most regional forms of transport for a month.

Spain is allowing free travel on suburban and middle-distance trains to help commuters cope with inflation.

National Travel Survey statistics released a fortnight ago suggest that car travel, and probably cycling, has been boosted by home deliveries of takeaway food and drink. 

Of the 91 percent of all UK households that had ordered delivered goods and services last year, 60 percent had had takeaway meals driven or biked to their homes.

This is up from between 50 percent and 52 percent in the two years before the coronavirus pandemic.

An AA poll of more than 15,000 drivers in July found that, even with record pump prices beyond anything that could have been imagined a year ago, only two percent of them had ditched the car and were walking or cycling instead.

Commenting on the National Travel Survey, Nicholas Lyes, the RAC’s head of roads policy, said most drivers would remain in their cars.

He added: “The price of fuel has left many drivers wondering how they can save money and the answer might be right beneath their noses in the form of a bicycle for shorter trips. 

“But undoubtedly drivers’ dependence on their vehicles for other trips shows no signs of waning.”

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