Less use of public transport could put 1 million extra cars on the road

More than a million extra cars could be the roads with the public avoiding public transport as lockdown continues to ease, according to Rachel Aldred, Professor of Transport at the Active Travel Academy at Westminster University.

Her research, Congestion ahead: a faster route is now available, says the percentage of people who drive to work will increase from 60-70%. Some estimates have suggested that public transport capacity will be cut to a sixth or less of its former rates to accommodate physical distancing.

Her report examines potential scale and impacts of public transport commuting trips shifting to car or to active travel in England and Wales. It says the relative growth in travel by cars is most severe in urban areas with high public transport use, e.g. Camden sees a 74% increase in cars used to commute.

The growth in driving for commuting equates to around 0.6 Mt (million tonnes) of carbon emissions annually In England and Wales. As commuting is only a fifth of trips by distance, if similar shifts are made for other trip purposes this might mean a rise of 3.1MT. Even if all public transport commuters with car access switch, though, this would only cover 59% of bus/coach users (who tend to do jobs less amenable to home working), leaving buses still potentially overcrowded in many areas at peak times, says the research.

But, says the report, a switch to active modes (like walking, cycling, scooting, e-bikes) among people whose commute distance is under 10km could capture up to three-quarters of bus/coach trips, up to a half of public transport commutes overall, which is a total over two million trips.

If all this is extra cycling, the resulting four-fold increase avoids over five hundred premature deaths annually, due to physical activity, with an economic benefit close to a billion pounds a year. Avoiding growth in car use is likely to rely on a combination of active travel infrastructure and supporting measures (particularly targeting former bus commuters), and continued home working among those living further from work (mainly train commuters), says the report.

“As bus and coach commuters are less likely to have access to a car than train commuters, it is especially important they have access to active travel infrastructure and services. Further scope for mode shift to active travel, especially cycling, among those who previously commuted by car, with 8.4 million car commute trips under 10km,” says the report.

The document makes several recommendations for local authorities including the need for them to plan strategically to use active transport to take the strain off public transport where most effective. Other recommendations include:

*Install a network of temporary/experimental infrastructure along key bus and local train corridors

*Roll out ‘mini-Hollands’ or ‘low-traffic neighbourhoods’ to support the start and end of journeys, and combinations of journeys

*Identify locations where additional cycle parking may be needed

*Provide subsidised or free access to bikes and e-bikes, repair and maintenance, and cycle training (Bikeability in England)

*Bring forward, enhance, or develop plans to control demand for driving.

These actions urgently need to be supported by central government, including changing the balance of investment to place much more emphasis on sustainable travel and much less on car travel, alongside technical and policy support for transport authorities, and legislative and other changes as necessary,” says the report.

The full report is available here:

https://docs.google.com/document/d/18l-9NKiJrfqIR1d131k4YToY9I-UPEW2EucWL61lzpA/edit#

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