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Morning rush hour back in full swing, RAC data confirms

Morning traffic is now back at pre-lockdown levels some six months after the pandemic put paid to the typical rush to work/school.

Analysis of hundreds of thousands of trips taken by RAC Insurance customers has revealed that morning rush hour is back to levels last seen in January

While the return of the morning rush hour is something most of us are probably already all too aware of, telematics data derived from RAC Insurance drivers shows weekday car traffic between 8am and 9am from 7-16 September was comparable to weekday levels in January.

And with ONS figures indicating that many people are still working from home, the data suggests it’s not commuters causing the issue, it’s people dropping children off at schools and nurseries. The RAC added that the fact that many schools are now operating staggered drop-off times may also be serving to extend the rush hour as well as changing the morning routine for some families.

Car volumes at the other end of the day are also now around the same pre-lockdown level between the end of the 3-4pm school collection time and the evening ‘rush’ of 5-6pm.

Daily RAC breakdown figures also show a ‘return to normal’, with mid-week call-outs in particular only a little below those seen during the first few winter months of the year. And since the schools returned, patrols have on average been called out to more rush-hour breakdowns than expected, balanced out by fewer later in the day.

RAC Insurance spokesperson Rod Dennis said that while schools reopening was always going to lead to a rise in vehicle traffic, the size of the increase indicates that such traffic contributes far more to the 8-9am rush hour window than commuters; ONS data indicates that between a fifth and a third of the UK workforce is still working remotely.

“What’s abundantly apparent is how dependent parents are on the car for getting children to their places of study or play during the week – and with fewer people prepared to take public transport at the moment, the reliance on the car as the transport mode of choice has increased,” Dennis continued. “Workers that used to drop children off and then carry on to offices or other workplaces are clearly still using their cars for these trips, but just returning home again instead. It may also be the case that many are opting for the car so they can be back at their desks to start work as promptly as possible.”

Dennis added: “The million-dollar question, of course, is what happens next and whether morning road traffic continues to rise in the autumn, or whether it stays at the sort of level we’re seeing now. The rising number of coronavirus cases, together with the introduction of local lockdowns and the threat of new nationwide restrictions, may also have an impact on people’s willingness to return to public transport.

“But while there is a huge number of possible scenarios that have the potential to change our travel habits, what does appear clear is that millions of us will continue to rely on the car for completing the journeys we have to make.”

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Natalie Middleton

Natalie has worked as a fleet journalist for 16 years, previously as assistant editor on the former Company Car magazine before joining Fleet World in 2006. Prior to this, she worked on a range of B2B titles, including Insurance Age and Insurance Day. As Business Editor, Natalie ensures the group websites and newsletters are updated with the latest news.