Has pandemic changed how we travel?

Are we seeing fundamental changes in how and for what purposes we travel in a post-pandemic world, asks John Siraut

John Siraut
16 December 2021
Figure 2: Proportion of trips by mode: 2020 compared to 2019
Source: 2020 National Travel Survey
Figure 2: Proportion of trips by mode: 2020 compared to 2019 Source: 2020 National Travel Survey
Figure 3: Proportionate changes in women’s trips compared to men’s: 2020 compared to 2019 Source: 2020 National Travel Survey
Figure 3: Proportionate changes in women’s trips compared to men’s: 2020 compared to 2019 Source: 2020 National Travel Survey

 

The latest National Travel Survey (NTS) for England sheds some light on how our travel patterns have been impacted by the pandemic. Comparing the 2020 NTS results with those of 2019 provides an insight into how our lives have changed. 

Figure 1 shows that, overall, we made 22% fewer trips in 2020 compared with 2019, but there were considerable variations in changes by journey purpose. Not surprisingly, entertainment trips fell most, down by 61%, followed by visiting friends outside the home and business trips, both down by around a half. 

Visiting friends at home fell least, down 21%, along with education escort and shopping trips down by 22%, while commuting trips fell by 35%. However, we rediscovered going out locally, with day trips up by 44% and going for a walk up 87%. 

Because we reduced our travelling overall, the actual number of walking trips fell slightly, as shown in Figure 2, down by 5%. But cycling trips were up by a quarter. Trips by all other modes were down, with bus use in London down the most, by almost two-thirds. It is notable that there is a lack of consistency between the many transport data sets during the pandemic, with the DfT’s weekly statistics reporting rail use falling far more than bus use. However, it is clear public transport trips were far more impacted than trips by car.

The number of trips made by different age groups shows some unexpected findings. The number of trips made by each ten year age group over the age of 30 fell by around 20%. Trips made by younger age groups fell more, with those made by 17-20 year-olds down by more than a third, suggesting it was the younger generations that were most impacted economically and socially by the pandemic.

The pandemic also impacted travel patterns differently depending on gender. Figure 3 shows how trips made by women changed in relation to those by men. A positive percentage indicates how trips by women either increased more or decreased less than those by men and a negative number the opposite situation. Small variations in behaviour between genders are not shown which is why commuting trips are not included.

After commuting, shopping is the most common journey purpose where there is relatively little difference in behaviours by age or gender. Next comes visiting friends and there are notable differences among older age groups. Women in their 60s did not reduce their number of trips as much as men but those in their 70s reduced them by much more. 

Escort trips saw a more interesting change. Women in most age groups reduced their trips for escort purposes by far more than men. This may reflect a higher proportion of escort trips being made by men during the pandemic due to changes in working patterns and greater levels of working from home. Women reduced their leisure trips less than men while there were significant differences in relation to business trips between genders and ages.

What is apparent, however, is that there are no clear patterns in the changes of trip patterns between men and women and between age groups, or obvious explanations for any differences. 

It will be interesting to see whether the travel patterns of the pandemic are one-offs or whether it has led to fundamental changes in how and for what purposes we travel in a post pandemic world.

John Siraut is director of economics at Jacobs 

Email: john.siraut@jacobs.com

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John Siraut

John Siraut

John Siraut

Economist specialising in the wider economic and social impacts of transport. Worked on Crossrail, Heathrow, London Gateway Port, light rail and tram schemes, buses, roads and parking. Also undertake economic research into areas such as housing, retail, street markets and regeneration generally. Chair of governors at an inner-city London school and a member of the Institute of Economic Development London executive. Specialties: Transport economics, economic development, economic research

 



 

 
 
 

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