People more reliant on the car
Post pandemic sees less commuting and lower levels of public transport use
Work travel change
The comprehensive study of UK drivers’ views reveals that drivers commuting five days a week has dropped to 32% as opposed to 49%.
In addition, three-in-10 drivers (30%) now expect to commute between one and four days a week. What’s more, a fifth of drivers (19%) expect to give up the commute by car altogether by switching to permanent home working. Just 7% of drivers said they worked from home prior to the pandemic.
Meanwhile, an identical 12% of drivers who used to commute via other means – bus, train, tube, walk or bike – before the pandemic say they’ll continue to do so in the future.
How often is the car used for different types of trips?
|Commuting||Visiting family and friends||Grocery / other essential shopping||Transporting children2|
|Use a car for every trip||61%||43%||50%||35%|
|Use a car for most trips||20%||33%||31%||23%|
|Occasionally use a car||11%||22%||16%||23%|
|Walk, cycle or use another form of transport for trips||7%||1%||2%||8%|
Safer and simpler
The pandemic looks likely to cause major, long-term shifts in commuting patterns. However, the importance drivers place on having access to a car is rising. Public transport is less appealing with the worry of infection. In fact, 82% of drivers said they would struggle without a car. This is the highest proportion recorded by the RAC in it annual surveys since 2006, up from 79% last year and 74% in 2019.
Drivers in rural areas are much more likely to say they are car-dependent (87% of drivers, compared to a still significant 77% of town and city dwellers).
Regional differences are also pronounced. Drivers in the West Midlands, Yorkshire and the North East of England more likely than average to say they depend on their vehicles. What’s more, one-in-five drivers (20%) expect to use their cars more as a result of the pandemic with the bulk (87%) expecting to do so for leisure purposes.
Better alternatives required
The RAC’s figures also suggest that negative attitudes towards public transport among drivers might be hardening. For the second year running fewer than half of drivers (46%) said they would use their cars less even if public transport was improved. This compares to 59% just three years ago, while an almost 45% said they expect to use public transport less in the future as a direct result of the pandemic.
Just a fifth (22%) say they see public transport as an attractive alternative to taking the car.
For those grocery shopping, 78% say they have too much to carry and so relied on a car. Half (49%) say the distance to reach the shops was too far to walk or cycle while four-in-10 said there was no realistic public transport option.
“These figures paint a picture of how car use is likely to change as a direct result of the pandemic,” comments Rod Dennis at the RAC. “A reduction in the number of days a week drivers commute by car being one of the most striking findings.”
Many drivers expect ‘hybrid working’ to become the norm. This would have a profound effect on the overall volume of vehicles on the roads during the week. Whether it signals an end to congestion during peak hours is another matter.
“It’s also clear just how important the car is to so many people, a relationship that appears to have strengthened due to Covid-19. A greater proportion of drivers than ever say they’d find it hard to live without one”.
Cars are faster, more reliable and often the only feasible option. Rod describes attitudes to public transport after the pandemic as highly significant. “If the challenge faced by policymakers in getting drivers out of their cars before the pandemic was akin to trekking up a steep hill, our research suggests they now have a veritable mountain to climb”. He adds that “most drivers say the pandemic has made them more wary of using public transport in the future.”
Future car use
Overall, it appears drivers will spend fewer days each week behind the wheel to get to and from workplaces.
The majority of drivers don’t expect much change in the the amount they use cars in the future. While commuting to work is down, it is being replaced by other trips. Of the 20% who expect to drive more as we come through the pandemic, 87% say it’s because they’ll be using them for leisure purposes.
The car is vital for sustaining people’s lifestyles. Staycations or travelling abroad, the car is likely to be the choice over public forms of transport whilst concern about airborne infections continues.
Public transport is an unattractive alternative more so now post pandemic. Drivers simply won’t accept shoddy, expensive, dirty public transport. It requires serious investment if policymakers are going to get drivers out of their cars.
While the car is clearly seen by many as crucial for certain trips, progress was made during the pandemic getting people to use active modes of travel. These include cycling and walking more.
Read the report here.