A new study into transport preferences has found individual car use is decreasing among younger people (under-35s), while rail ridership is increasing across all age groups, in spite of the 2008 financial crash and above-inflation rail ticket costs.
The Independent Transport Commission looked at at 1995-2014 data to produce its report “Recent trends in road and rail travel: What do they tell us? On the Move 2 (1995-2014): Overview and policy analysis”. The paper was based on research commissioned from experts Gordon Stokes and Peter Headicar . Using National Travel Survey data, the findings identify the pattern of road and rail travel trends in England between 1995 and 2014. The study updates two previous reports into travel trends up to 2007 and a parallel study on related attitudinal trends.
Its key findings are:
- The total miles travelled by English residents peaked in 2007 before falling sharply in 2008-09, and stabilising at this lower level
- However, this aggregate trend is due to population growth (which increased in England by almost 12% between 1995 and 2014). The per capita (individual) weekly distance travelled is now 10% lower than in the mid-2000s
- At the same time, each English resident is making significantly fewer trips overall in 2014 than in 1995. But the average trip is now longer in terms of both time and distance
- Although the aggregate national traffic levels are rising, individual car driving mileage per adult has declined significantly, from 1995 to 2014. Individual car use amongst younger people, especially men under 35, is falling fastest. At the same time there has been a significant rise in the personal car driving mileage (and licence holding) of older women (over 60)
- Average rail mileage per person has continued to rise sharply, due to a greater percentage of the population travelling by rail, rather than existing travellers making more or longer journeys
- The link between GDP, incomes, costs and personal travel appears to be weakening. Car driving mileage per adult has declined in spite of overall motoring costs (combining vehicle purchase, fuel and insurance) remaining stagnant since 2000
- Per capita car use has fallen everywhere: most slowly in rural areas, and most sharply in London, which has also seen the greatest rise in the use of modes other than the car.
“This report uncovers seismic shifts in patterns of individual travel behaviour,” commented Dr Matthew Niblett, Director of the ITC. “We are seeing that the historic correlations between incomes, costs and travel are weakening. An inter-generational divide in travel behaviour is growing. For young adults, cars are increasingly viewed as utilitarian appliances, rather than aspirational goods. And there are also growing differences in travel patterns between rural and urban areas.
“As the Government and regional transport bodies embark upon delivering a period of large-scale infrastructure investment, our findings raise important planning issues as it is clear that attitudinal factors are becoming an increasingly significant driver of travel. For example, could we reach a ‘Peak Rail’ scenario as the scope for switching further car trips to rail diminishes?”
In the coming weeks, the ITC says it will be discussing the contents of the report with the Department for Transport, Transport for London, Network Rail, Transport for the North and others. The ITC believes that further research is needed, particularly into the causes of these changing travel trends, and analysis should also explore issues around changing attitudes to bus and rail travel.