Covid brings "seismic shift" away from public transport

The Covid-19 pandemic has seen a massive swing in drivers shunning public transport, according to the RAC, as growing numbers say having access to a car is more important than ever.

The RAC’s annual Report on Motoring shows that for the first time since 2002, fewer than half of motorists would consider using their car less, even if public transport was improved, with just 43 per cent saying it was an option, compared with 57 per cent in 2019.

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Since the first lockdown, people have been encouraged to find alternatives to using public transport, in an effort to cut passenger numbers and reduce the risk of infection. The RAC study suggests that these health concerns and people’s increasing reliance on private cars have compounded people’s existing concerns over the cost, reliability and accessibility of public transport.

The study also found that 57 per cent of drivers felt having access to a car was more important now than before the pandemic began, rising to two-thirds among some groups, including young and inexperienced drivers and those living in London. Among the key reasons were being able to transport shopping and visit family members in other parts of the country. Fifty-four per cent also expressed a belief that a car was a safer way to travel during the ongoing pandemic.

RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis said: “Even with lower traffic volumes, the pandemic appears to have reinforced the bond between drivers and their cars – with public transport less attractive than ever.

“Without a concerted effort from government and local councils, the pandemic risks putting efforts to encourage drivers out of their cars for some trips back by years. Even before the coronavirus, drivers complained that public transport fares were often too high and services didn’t run when they needed them to. Now, for the first time since 2002, we have fewer drivers than ever saying they’re prepared to use public transport even if services improved – underlining just what a huge role the car continues to play in 2020.

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“As cities seek to improve air quality and make urban centres cleaner places, it’s clear that low-cost, efficient alternatives to the car need further thinking and much greater financial investment.”

The study also found that despite many people working from home for months this year, the proportion who intended to use their car for commuting changed very little. While 36 per cent said they expected to work from home more, 64 per cent said they still expected to drive to offices or other places of work in the future, a figure which is almost unchanged from 2019’s 67 per cent.

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