Two-thirds of drivers say they still need cars for work
The pandemic has underscored drivers’ reliance on car travel, including for work, with public travel at its least popular level in nearly 20 years.
More than half of UK drivers (57%) say having access to a car is more important than it was before the coronavirus pandemic, according to research for the RAC’s annual Report on Motoring.
Car access is still highly important for work purposes; the majority (64%) of those surveyed still expect to drive to offices or other places of work in the future; almost unchanged from the figure of 67% prior to the pandemic.
A little over a third of drivers (36%) say they expect to work from home more frequently in the future as a result of the coronavirus.
Drivers also say they need their cars for other purposes; nearly 68% say a car is essential for carrying items like shopping, up from 54% last year. And 59% say the car is essential for meeting up with friends and family who live elsewhere in the country, a rise from 45% in 2019.
The dominant factor in all of this is the declining popularity of public transport as a result of the pandemic. For the first time since 2002, fewer than half of drivers (43%) say they would use their cars less, even if public transport was improved – down sharply from 57% in 2019.
It’s a “seismic shift” compared to recent years, according to the RAC, and reflects drivers’ ongoing safety concerns of using potentially crowded public transport systems – making them more wedded to their cars than ever.
But, consistent with previous years, drivers have given a wide range of reasons for not using public transport more. Nearly half (46%) say fares are too high (2019: 50%), 43% say services don’t run when they need them to (2019: 41%) and 41% say services aren’t frequent enough (2019: 41%). A similar proportion (39%) complain that bus or rail lines don’t run close enough to where they live or are looking to get to (2019: 38%), while nearly three-in-10 (29%) report services just take too long (2019: 25%).
RAC data insight spokesperson Rod Dennis said the research shows a clear rethink is needed on approaches to travel.
“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,” he warned.
Dennis continued: “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. Park and ride sites make a lot of sense and cater for the many people who are too far from regular public transport networks, but perhaps now is the time for the concept to evolve to encompass park and cycle, park and walk, or even park and scoot.
“A failure to invest in adequate alternatives for drivers keen on accessing town and city centres risks stifling the recovery of these areas as shopping and tourist destinations as we eventually come out of the coronavirus pandemic.”
Paul Tuohy, chief executive of the Campaign for Better Transport lobbying group, said: “We are already starting to see the consequences of returning to a car-based transport system with increasing congestion on our roads and poor air quality in our towns and cities. This report has highlighted the need to act now or risk losing our way on the road to a fairer, more sustainable transport network. The Government must use the forthcoming Spending Review to ensure public transport is supported in the short term so that those people who need to use it can, as well as providing longer term funding to create an affordable, reliable, clean and safe alternative to driving.”