Surveys project fall in public transport and private car use after lockdown

Wed 29 April 2020 View all news

Two new opinion surveys find that travel behaviour could change significantly after the Covid-19 lockdown is released with respondents suggesting that 22% will reduce their personal car use while there could also be a 20% fall in public transport usership. A rise in home working and virtual meetings are expected. Meanwhile, the Government is facing a legal challenge over its road building plans.

A study by transport researchers SYSTRA found that public transport passengers fearful for their health will avoid journeys while two-thirds of respondents anticipate that online meetings will replace a significant proportion of engagements that previously took place physically.

The results were taken from a representative survey of 1,500 adult residents across the UK that was undertaken between 8-14 April 2020. 

The results (which covered representative regions of the UK) included the findings that:

  • 20% say they will take fewer trips by public transport after travel restrictions are lifted, rising to 27% for those who use rail to commute.
  • Of those expecting to reduce their use of public transport, 49% will do so because of concerns over getting ill; 24% said they will work from home more; and 14% said they have found another way of making their journey.
  • 17% of full and part time workers believe they will work from home more once COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted. Reasons cited were saving the commute time and cost, and wanting a better work-life balance.
  • 67% believe virtual meetings will replace some or all business trips or meetings.

Katie Hall, Director Travel Behaviour at SYSTRA, said (quoted by LTT): “Our climate emergency has not been cancelled. There is no doubt that this situation has opened up different ways of working for many, but if people start rejecting public transport over the car for work and leisure trips that’s a massive step backwards. Public transport operators must rise to this challenge.”

Chris Pownall, Business Development Director, SYSTRA, added. “When we go ‘back to normal’ we won’t go back to the old normal. Instead we'll enter a new ‘new normal’ where many people realise that they have more choice about where they work, how they get to work and how they conduct their day-to-day business. Travel patterns will have changed. Indisputably this is a call to action for policy makers and public transport operators, who must adapt and create new approaches and partnerships.”

Meanwhile, an AA Populus survey of nearly 20,000 drivers found that a fifth of drivers say they'll use their cars less once the lockdown is over. The AA-Populus poll revealed that:

  • 22% will drive less (increasing to 24% of those over 65)
  • 51% will drive as before
  • 1% will drive more
  • 36% will walk/cycle/run more

The Populus survey revealed, however, that changes in transport use and lifestyle changes will be complex.

Of the survey respondents, currently two thirds (66%) were working from home but one third (34%) are unable to do so. Overall, 11% of all respondents (including those who don’t work) said they would work from home more often once the lockdown is lifted, increasing to 23% amongst those aged 35-44. Such changes in working patterns could again lead to a reduction in traffic from both public transport and private vehicles.

Edmund King, AA President, said: "Life after lockdown will be different. Some will shun public transport, others will drive less, more will cycle and walk, working from home will continue for many.

"Some drivers who have appreciated lower traffic noise, fewer and shorter journeys, may be prompted finally to buy an electric vehicle. All in all, life will return and the increase in car use in some areas instead of public transport will be countered by others realising that they can use their cars less by working from home or even walking and cycling more".

In related news, an environmental group, Transport Action Network, has nearly reached its funding goal to mount a legal challenge against the Department for Transport (DfT), to block its second road investment strategy (RIS 2) announced in the recent budget.

The campaign to “stop the largest ever road-building programme” was launched on April 21 and had recently raised over £28,000 of its £38,000 target with 21 days left to run.

RIS2 was published on March 11 and involves spending £27.4 billion by 2025 on new roads.

The funds for the crowdfunding campaign will be used to take the DfT to the High Court and launch a judicial review of the DfT’s RIS2 plans. 

A statement from the Transport Action Group said: “We urgently need to reduce emissions year-on-year if we are to keep the earth’s temperature within safe limits of 1.5C.

“By building more roads and creating more traffic, RIS2 would take us in the wrong direction and lock us into an unsustainable future.

The same legal team that represented the challenge to Heathrow’s expansion and won has agreed to represent the Transport Action Group should it meet its fundraising target by the deadline.

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