TransportXtra features news, opinion and analysis from the UK transport policy & planning;
passenger transport; urban development & parking industries.

Can we really go car-lite in the UK?

If we act in time, could a permanent change to more sustainable travel demand strategies be locked in permanently?

Juliana O'Rourke
06 July 2020

 

At the end of last month, Anne Hidalgo was re-elected as Mayor of Paris with a mission to remove many cars and boost cycling and walking.

As part of her manifesto Hidalgo plans to turn the French capital into a myriad of neighbourhoods where ‘you can find everything you need within 15 minutes from home’. But, preferably, not by car, reported Carlton Reid in Forbes.

Instead, the Socialist Party politician wants more Parisians to walk and cycle. Plans for the ‘city of fifteen minutes’ —or, Ville Du Quart D’Heure—were unveiled on January 21 by Hidalgo’s reelection campaign, Paris En Commun. The plans, which aim to transform Paris into a people-friendly city, build on Hidalgo’s ‘Plan Vélo’ transport changes made during her current term of office, which has included removing space for cars and boosting space for cyclists and pedestrians, added Reid.

Join the free Travel Demand webinar on 16 July @ 14.30 to explore these issues

Incumbent Hidalgo won just under half of the votes cast in the capital during the 28 June vote, ‘clearing the way for Hidalgo to achieve her goal of making Paris the first large, mostly car-free city by the end of her second term’, wrote Ido Vock in The New Statesman.  

But Hidalgo owes her re-election to a shrewd political calculation, adds Vock, and one which is unique to the French capital. She is elected solely by the two million residents of Paris proper, rather than the metropolitan area ringing the capital, home to between seven million and 13 million depending on how you count.

Getting Britain moving again, whilst not overcrowding our transport network, represents an enormous logistical challenge. This is a problem which presents a health opportunity too…. an opportunity to make lasting changes that could not only make us fitter, but also better-off – both mentally and physically – in the long run

Her position, notes Vock, as the leader of the dense urban core of a larger metropolitan area, has allowed her to be bolder in confronting the private car than administrations elected in conurbations whose electorates stretch out to the suburbs, where voters are more likely to own cars.

For instance, in London, about 54 per cent of households own at least one car, largely because of outer London boroughs such as Hillingdon, where three quarters are car owners. In Paris, the figure is 34 per cent. Similar issues of central versus suburban preferences dog many cities and regions across Europe and beyond.

At the recent Cycling Industries Europe Summit, European Cyclists’ Federation President and Paris vice-mayor Christophe Najdovski, warned: ‘The private car is presented as a cocoon that protects from the virus’. Public favour must shift away from the car to see the bicycle as the mode of transport most suited to healthy, safe, and sustainable transport. He added: there are two possible futures for a post-Covid-19 world, a return to private cars or a modal shift to cycling.

It’s clear which path Paris has chosen. But what about the UK? Is it possible for it to follow suit?

Busy roads as lockdown eases

On July 4, as the lockdown loosened to permit overnight stays, roads in the south west roads were ’very busy’, leading to a number of accidents in the region and heavy congestion. The volume of traffic, including caravans travelling overnight, was worse than a bank holiday, a lorry driver told the BBC.

Last week, roads were gridlocked in Bournemouth and police also closed the main road to Camber Sands beach in East Sussex after a mile-long queue for a car park formed. Some popular tourist hotspots including St Ives in Cornwall have already taken steps to ban cars and close roads to avoid overcrowding and encourage social distancing, added the BBC.

And with holiday cottages in England enjoying their busiest day ever for bookings after the prime minister’s go-ahead for staycations, and public transport use at all time lows, the situation looks set to worsen. So do these trends suggest that the critical ‘window of opportunity’ for boosting walking and cycling has already passed? And if so, what can be done to reverse the trend and give space back to people wishing to travel using healthy, active modes?

The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has led to major changes in commuter travel patterns. Many workers stopped travelling to a workplace either because they were furloughed, began working from home or in some cases lost their jobs. The amount of people travelling to a workplace therefore declined sharply, but is now beginning to rise.

While cycling levels are up by 70 per cent compared to the period before the coronavirus lockdown, according to Government figures, this represents a slight decline in recent weeks. Speaking at the start of last month, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said that the level of weekday cycling had doubled in Great Britain since the introduction of lockdown in late March, with even stronger growth at weekends, when it has been at three or even four times more than the previous levels. 

The change comes alongside news that motor traffic has doubled compared to the lockdown low back in April, according to data released by the Department for Transport. 

UK motor traffic fell to its lowest level for 65 years at the start of lockdown, with travel on the nation’s roads plummeting to levels not seen since 1955. Traffic fell to between 35 and 40 per cent of the pre-coronavirus volume, but with the lockdown being eased, it has since risen to around 75 per cent of pre-lockdown levels. 

Travel demand management

England may restraining provate car use a big ask, but there may be pockets of opportunity. Travel demand management, for which the UK has shown much aptitude, may be key to realising these.

The lockdown caused a dramatic reduction in travel demand, especially for vehicle and public transport trips. But as lockdowns ease, travel demand by all modes in England has risen, and car traffic volumes have, as stated, started to climb from the low point seen between late March and mid-April.

The DfT has allocated £250m to local authorities in England to 'cement cycling and walking habits'. The transport sector needs to understand the rapid changes taking place in the attitudes of transport users and the implications for their future travel choices, and how to lock in the emergency changes requested by the DfT.

Local authorities also need to respond to the use of different travel modes by different people, and by workers in different sectors of the economy, at different times during the day as physical distancing becomes an established pattern. Homeworkng may remain a trend for many, and public transport use may take time to recover. 

There are three key areas to explore:

The role of travel behaviour marketing communications –  learning from major disruptions

Travel demand management and direct engagement – practical advice on working with business, schools and other organisation

Operational travel demand management solutions – spreading the demand for travel

There was surprising unanimity amongst the five panellists at a recent LTT online discussion about how the car fits into the UK’s changing travel patterns. Even the representative of car maker Nissan, Peter Stephens, its head of UK external and government, recognised that traditional approaches to car ownership and use were disappearing, and a more flexible and sustainable model of travel choices emerging. Nick Reed, the former head of mobility R&D at automotive equipment firm Bosch, and now running his own consultancy, acknowledged his own personal journey away from the motor industry as he notes in a contribution on this page.

Reed, of Reed Mobility, said: Last week’s  LTT conversation highlighted how the future of car travel is one element in a dynamic transport ecosystem where the genuine need to travel has been fully considered and the true environmental and societal impact of our choices respected. Cars certainly have a role in that future. But with emergent connectivity and automation technologies, growth in cycling and micromobility, an increasing recognition of the importance of shared transport services and greater emphasis on decarbonisation, I would be surprised if the role of the car in the 21st century did not diverge significantly from that it enjoyed in the 20th.

Employment vehicle usage historically

Office of National Statistics (ONS) data, published in June 2020, on travel to work patterns from the Census and Annual Population Survey, (data on method of travel to work and distance of travel to work split by industry sectors and workplace location), showed that the car is the most popular mode of transport in every industry. But it also noted that the mode of travel used to commute to work not only differs by place, it also differs by industry. The graph shows the mode of travel to work in the UK in 2018 by industrial sectors.

There are some significant differences. In the construction, manufacturing and wholesale sectors, around 75% of workers used a car or van to travel to work. With a further 10% to 11% working at home in these industries, this means only around 15% were travelling the main part of their commute by non-car modes of travel, says the ONS. By contrast, in the food and beverages, and the financial and insurance sectors, over 45% were travelling by non-car modes, a slightly higher share than were travelling by car or van for these sectors.

In the construction, manufacturing and wholesale sectors, around 75% of workers used a car or van to travel to work. With a further 10% to 11% working at home in these industries, this means only around 15% were travelling the main part of their commute by non-car modes of travel. By contrast, in the food and beverages, and the financial and insurance sectors, over 45% were travelling by non-car modes, a slightly higher share than were travelling by car or van for these sectors.

Back in June, Chris Boardman has warned that “decisions made in the next two weeks will set the transport agenda for the next two decades” as the government introduces further easing of the lockdown in England, and has urged the government to include cycling statistics in its daily briefings when highlighting changing travel patterns. 'Cycling is central to the back-to-work strategy,' Boardman acknowledged, 'but ministers risk sending mixed messages if statistics for trains, buses and cars are presented each day, but not bicycles. The data is out there, officials just have to prioritise gathering it.'

However, with motor traffic levels rising significantly in recent weeks, the question is how much of this temporary boost to active modes will stick. Supporting the launch of Bike Week in June, the Cycling Minister, Chris Heaton-Harris, said: ‘Covid-19 has made us rethink how we work, shop, and travel – and we have seen so many people over the past couple of months discovering or re-discovering a love of cycling as they look for new ways to get around.’ 

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has legalised rental e-scooter trials as he feels e-scooters could replace car trips, and has repeatedly stated that travel behaviour must change, because capacity on public transport will be severely restricted by the need to maintain social distancing and the road network will become gridlocked if car use increases.

'Getting Britain moving again,' said Shapps, 'whilst not overcrowding our transport network, represents another enormous logistical challenge. This is a problem which presents a health opportunity too…. an opportunity to make lasting changes that could not only make us fitter, but also better-off – both mentally and physically – in the long run.' This statement is consistent with the government’s plans for public transport and active travel to 'be the natural first choice for our daily activities' as the UK decarbonises its transport system.

Let’s hope that ministers still feel this way and are prepared to put their money where their mouths are – Hidalgo has shown that anti-car policies don’t need to be vote losers.

 
 
Principal Officer - Transport Strategy
Coventry City Council
Coventry
£43,857 – £49,449
Principal Officer - Transport Strategy
Coventry City Council
Coventry
£43,857 – £49,449
Principal Transport Planner
Royal Borough of Greenwich
Greenwich
£43,860 - £46,839
View all Vacancies
 
Search
 

TransportXtra is part of Landor LINKS

© 2020 TransportXtra | Landor LINKS Ltd | All Rights Reserved

Subscriptions, Magazines & Online Access Enquires
[Frequently Asked Questions]
Email: subs.ltt@landor.co.uk | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7959

Shop & Accounts Enquires
Email: accounts@landor.co.uk | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7855

Advertising Sales & Recruitment Enquires
Email: daniel@landor.co.uk | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7861

Events & Conference Enquires
Email: conferences@landor.co.uk | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7865

Press Releases & Editorial Enquires
Email: info@transportxtra.com | Tel: +44 (0) 20 7091 7875

Privacy Policy | Terms and Conditions | Advertise

Web design sussex by Brainiac Media 2020