We need to start planning now for how we travel around England in the coming decades, according to a major new report. It explains how, as a population, we travel substantially less today than we did one or two decades ago. Overall, we make fewer trips, spend less time travelling, and travel fewer miles.
But there are noticeable differences in our travel patterns, depending on who we are – baby boomers over 60, Generation X-ers between 60 and 35, or millennials under 35.
The new report, from the Commission on Travel Demand, reveals that even though the population is growing and employment rates are high, we drive less. We are travelling less by car and more by train and bike. Fewer of us are getting driving licences, and we are getting them much later in our lives. Only the over-60 baby boomers – a key sector of the population and the first generation to fall in love with the car – are driving more than their predecessors.
Professor Greg Marsden, Chair of the Commission on Travel Demand, says: “This is not a report about flying taxis or futuristic promises of systems that can get people to far-flung places faster. It is a report grounded in the realities of today, and it challenges the inevitability of traffic growth.
“The only age range in which mileage per capita is growing is in the over-60s. This was anticipated as the baby boomer generation retires with a lifetime of driving behind it, replacing a generation that was far less car-dependent. What was not expected was the wave of reductions in the travel of younger people following on behind.”
Major changes to how we work, shop and socialise are all leading to reductions in our travel: we have families later and stay longer in education. Yet there is increasing congestion on parts of our transport networks, largely as a result of a growing and ageing population. Traffic growth is mostly on the motorway network and away from cities, in places where there are few alternatives to the car, and much of it is van traffic.
It is against this backdrop that we have to plan for the growth of innovations such as Uber, dockless bikes and autonomous vehicles. These developments could reinforce a shift away from the desire, and need, to own a car in many parts of the country. However, there are risks that ‘on-demand’ travel worsens our congestion and pollution challenges. Evidence from cities across Europe shows that it would be better to plan for the futures we want to create, and to start now.
For the past 50 years we have planned on the basis that society will want to travel more and, in particular, more by car. All Change, the first report of the Commission on Travel Demand, suggests that this is no longer the case. Current trends suggest that, as baby boomers age, the appeal of the car will diminish. These new findings have major implications for transport policy, which will need to reflect changing travel behaviour. The report calls on decision-makers, practitioners and researchers to make a step change in how they think about travel demand, how the future is planned for, and what kind of evidence is taken seriously when taxpayers’ money is invested in the transport system.
The Commission on Travel Demand is an independent group which has been assembled as part of the Research Council UK-funded DEMAND Centre. It has been established to bring together the state-of-art in understanding how travel demand is changing and may change in the future. The commission is funded by UK Research and Innovation through the Research Council’s Energy Programme with funding from ECLEER (EDF R&D). The Commission will continue as part of a further UKRI investment, the UK Centre for Research on Energy Demand.
The Commission on Travel Demand launched its report All Change: The Future of Travel Demand and its implications for policy and planning on Thursday 3rd May in London. The report was launched as part of an event stimulating wider debate from across government and practice in response to the report’s findings. For further information and to access the report, please visit The Commission on Travel Demand website
The 10 recommendations from the All Change: The Future of Travel Demand and its implications for policy and planning are:
1: A FUTURES Lab should be established
Responsible: National Infrastructure Commission and Government Office for Science
2: Travel demand futuring tools should be open source
Responsible: Department for Transport
3: There should be greater devolved input to demand futures
Responsible: Department for Transport and Urban Transport Group
4: A longer term ex-post evaluation database should be established
Responsible: Department for Transport and National Audit Office
5: There should be a shift to adaptive decision-making approaches
Responsible: Department for Transport, HM Treasury, National Infrastructure Commission, Highways England
6: Assessment tools and methods need to be simplified
Responsible: UK Research and Innovation and Department for Transport
7: The Carbon Budget implications of different demand futures should be published
Responsible: Department for Transport and Committee on Climate Change
8: The gap between trends in urban areas and on motorway networks must be understood and managed
Responsible: Highways England, Combined Authorities
9: A set of ‘green growth’ city futures should be established
Responsible: Department for Transport, Ministry of Housing, Local Government and Communities, National Infrastructure Commission and Local Authorities/Combined Authorities
10: A new accounting procedure should be established to make the transport implications of non-transport policies transparent
Responsible: Transport Statistics User Group; Department for Transport and Cabinet Office
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