We have opportunity to embed pandemic-induced travel reductions if we act now - report

Wed 16 March 2022 View all news

A new report from the Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (CREDS) finds that the Covid pandemic has resulted in the link between economic growth and inevitable, associated increases in travel demand has been broken. It publishes a series of recommendations for locking in the benefits of the fall in travel demand and the consequent benefits in terms of climate change, air pollution and traffic congestion.

The report says that car ownership has fallen and that car traffic is not back to pre-pandemic levels; that weekday car traffic in England stabilised around 10% below pre-pandemic levels throughout summer and autumn 2021 with falls in peak time congestion.

It says that working from home, for those who can, has played a critical part in reducing traffic levels. Even if people who have worked from home go back to travelling for half of their working week, there will still be a reduction of 16% in car commute miles.

It also finds that there has been a sustained increase in active travel, particularly walking, between 2020 and well into 2021.

However, the study points out that public transport has been impacted more than travel by car. While governments channelled huge amounts of subsidy into public transport during the pandemic to secure services, the purse strings are now being tightened. the next few months, it says, will define the long-term future of public transport.

The CREDS report says, however, that none of the positive changes identified in travel behaviour to date should be taken for granted. The policy choices, it says, that are made in the coming months will be crucial in shaping better outcomes.

Six areas for urgent action by the public and private sector are identified:

  • Act now to stimulate a return to public transport
  • Actively manage the return to the office to kickstart more sustainable commuting
  • Prioritise improving pedestrian environments with the funding and attention it deserves
  • Encourage leisure cyclists to broaden their cycle use
  • Tackle the rise in light goods vehicle traffic
  • Support a shift to lower car ownership

There are eight practical recommendations are made for the public and private sector

Recommendation 1: There needs to be an immediate cross-sector ‘welcome back to public transport’ campaign to win back people who have not used trains and buses during the pandemic.

Recommendation 2: Government adopts a ‘whole economy’ approach to understanding the benefits as well as the costs of public transport subsidy post pandemic as part of its consideration of the future governance, regulation and funding of the sector.

Recommendation 3: The Department for Transport should fund a series of innovation projects as part of its Commute Zero programme to ensure that hybrid working is integrated with sustainable access to work.

Recommendation 4: Local authorities should commit staff to support the development of updated commuter travel plans with employers and work with transport providers to identify the right incentives to smooth demand across the week.

Recommendation 5: There should be renewed focus on delivering significant enhancement of the pedestrian environment, particularly in suburbs and local centres, to support walking as the natural first choice for as many trips as possible.

Recommendation 6: Revenue funding should be committed now to support locally-led campaigns and interventions to encourage people back to more regular cycling and to try new facilities.

Recommendation 7: National governments should conduct major studies to understand the growth in light van traffic and then develop strategies to manage it.

Recommendation 8: Employers, HM Treasury, HMRC and the Department for Transport should work together to create a new set of incentives to replace company car benefits, lock in lower travel and support the shift to decarbonising domestic property.

Related News: A new report from Greener Transport Solutions ('Pathways to Net Zero') which follows last year's 'Manifesto for Decarbonising Transport' has some findings in common with the CREDS report. It says that  we need a whole systems transition to net zero and that this will require a paradigm shift in how we think about decarbonising transport.

The report was informed by a series of roundtable discussions followed by a consultation with the Transport Knowledge Hub community.

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