Motorists open to the idea of using their cars less, study reveals

30 November 2022


Councils can help save motorists as much as £6000 a year by encouraging them to use their cars less, according to new report commissioned by bus operator Stagecoach. 

Financial, environmental and community benefits of reduced car use and calls for co-ordinated action from government, councils and transport operators, the study says.

It found that motorists are most open to reducing car usage for the school run (+34% net openness rating) or personal leisure activity (+22% net openness rating) like going to the gym. The motorists most open to using their cars less are younger (+36% score), live in urban areas (+28%) or make shorter journeys (+21%).

According to the report, which surveyed over 4,000 people from across Great Britain, councils can deliver the greatest change by adopting blended policies, maximising consumer savings and benefits to the environment and communities. Introducing policies that dissuade car usage and fund making public transport more affordable, accessible and convenient are more effective and secure greater local support. 

For example, introducing a Clean Air Zone and lower bus fares would encourage over half of motorists to drive much less often for work (52%) and social (53%) or leisure activities (52%).

Measures such as a long-term scheme to lower bus fares would result in a significant drop in commuting costs if people switch their journeys, the report says. It estimates that a household of two adults and two children can save between £1,040 to more than £6,000 annually by switching all of their journeys.

These savings can be enhanced further where people are able to use weekly or monthly bus tickets that help to reduce the cost of travelling even more, the report says.

Making journeys more affordable would also enable people to make “non-essential but desirable trips that drive economic activity on high streets, as people know they can get into town without high fuel or other costs, such as parking, to deal with”.

The report calls for the following steps:

  • Central government must reaffirm support for policies that encourage residents to switch their journeys if it increases affordability, reduces their emissions and helps create nicer and more liveable communities.
  • Local authorities should make clear commitments to act to help residents switch from car journeys to other modes of transportation.
  • Local authorities should devote communication resources to setting out the link between any policy initiatives and the positive link it has in funding other initiatives. For example, workplace parking levies subsidising bus fares.
  • Public transport operators should continue to develop and invest in sustainable bus networks, working with their local authorities to ensure buses are convenient and meet the needs of local residents.
  • Central government should encourage local authorities to set out plans to help people switch car journeys for other modes of transport, particularly where a car is not essential.
  • Local authorities should begin discussions now with public transport companies to identify long term, sustainable ways of maintaining low bus fares to ensure that they remain attractive and affordable.
  • Central government and local authorities should explore other options to make public transport networks attractive to residents to help soften the impact of switching approaches.

Roads minister Richard Holden said: “This research from Stagecoach shows there is great appetite among drivers to use their cars less in favour of buses – the most popular form of public transport.

“That’s why we’re investing billions in buses that are more frequent, greener, and start earlier and finish later across the UK and providing residents outside London with a step change towards the brilliant transport networks they deserve.”

On behalf of Scottish Government, transport minister Jenny Gilruth said: “I welcome this research from Stagecoach, which will help us to inform and build upon our work to encourage people out of their cars and onto public transport. It confirms what we already know – that there are cheaper and more sustainable ways for people to travel, especially for short journeys, which are better for their health and wellbeing as well as their finances and the environment.

“We continue to promote walking, wheeling and cycling and sustainable public transport options above the use of private cars by embedding our Sustainable Travel Hierarchy in all decision-making. The appetite for bus travel is evident across the country and over 30 million journeys have now been made through the Young Persons’ Free Bus Travel Scheme in Scotland, helping young people save money on their day-to-day journeys.”

Martin Griffiths, chief executive of Stagecoach, said: “Motorists across the country are willing to change how they make journeys and we must seize this opportunity to promote cheaper, greener and less congestive modes of transport. This report demonstrates there is a considerable prize on offer for motorists, councils and central government, and we need to create the environment that helps motorists switch from their car.

“As the cost of living crisis continues to hit pockets, we know that people want an alternative to their car that is affordable, accessible and convenient. Our research makes clear that local authorities can deliver this in partnership with public transport operators through balanced policy decisions that encourage people to think again and choose to take the bus.

“This research highlights that there is a significant opportunity to save motorists thousands of pounds, avoid emitting millions of tonnes of CO2 and take the equivalent of one in four cars off the road, and we must work together to deliver it.”

Paul Tuohy, chief executive of Campaign for Better Transport, said: "It's incredibly positive news that millions of people are open to switching their car journeys to public transport – this is one of the quickest and most effective ways we can shrink our carbon footprint, as well as cutting traffic and air pollution in our communities.

“People are ready and willing to make that change if the conditions are right, which means we need action from Government and local councils. They must make public transport more accessible, affordable and convenient, reallocate road space, and especially reduce fares: a win for our pockets as well as our planet.”

Every journey makes a difference: how we can support people switch how they travel

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