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UK car dependency increases

RAC calls for greater investment in public transport so drivers have an alternative to sitting in traffic and contributing to poor air quality and congestion

Six in 10 would use their car less if public transport was better in the UK
Six in 10 would use their car less if public transport was better in the UK

UK drivers’ dependency on the car has jumped in the last year with a third (33 per cent) of motorists – the equivalent to 13.2m – saying they are more reliant on their cars now than 12 months earlier, according to research for the RAC’s annual Report on Motoring.


It compares to just 27 per cent in 2017 and almost a quarter blame it on a deterioration in public transport services.


The RAC data shows car dependency had been dropping steadily since 2012 when 31 per cent of motorists said they were more reliant on a car than the year before. The latest figures show, however, how dependent the UK is on the car.


The motoring trends report, now in its thirtieth year and which is based on a representative survey of 1,808 motorists, also found that the percentage of drivers whose car use has increased in the last year rose for the first time in four years.


Shift from less to more car use


In 2018, 27 per cent of motorists say they are using their cars more than the year before, while only 18 per cent say their use has reduced – this is in contrast to 2017 when the percentages were 20 per cent for increased car use and 24 per cent less car use. This means there has been a 12 per cent shift from less to more car use, which represents 4.8m drivers.


“At a time when there is so much effort being put into tackling air quality issues and congestion, it is alarming to see that dependency on the car is actually the highest we have ever seen,” said RAC chief engineer, David Bizley.


The top reasons people gave for using their cars more were having a greater need to transport family members (34 per cent), having a longer commute (32 per cent), and family and friends having moved further away (27 per cent).


Deterioration in public transport


A significant 24 per cent blamed a deterioration in public transport services for using their car more often, with 44 per cent of this group blaming public transport reliability, 39 per cent higher fares and a third (33 per cent) saying it was due to cuts in local services.


This claim is supported by a report from the Campaign for Better Transport, which found local authority funding in England and Wales for bus services had been cut by 45 per cent over the past eight years and 3,347 routes have been reduced or withdrawn.

“We must make it easier for public transport to be used on the journeys that the majority of people make most often”

Six in 10 (59 per cent) of respondents said they would use their car less if public transport was better, with only 11 per cent disagreeing with this statement. Of these, 45 per cent said fares were too high, 42 per cent said services don’t run when they need them, 40 per cent said they aren’t close enough to where they live or need to go and 39 per cent stated they don’t run often enough, while a frustrated 31 per cent claimed they don’t run on time.


Other popular reasons included 25 per cent saying both that services are too slow and too crowded, and 16 per cent claiming there were too many cancellations.


“While there is much talk about improving public transport, the reality is very different as buses and trains are not meeting public expectations, and in fact in some cases have actually gone backwards,” said Bizley.


“It is particularly frightening to think we have fewer people travelling by bus in 2018 than we did in 2008. We need greater investment in public transport so that where feasible, drivers have an alternative to sitting in traffic and contributing to poor air quality and congestion.


“We must make it easier for public transport to be used on the journeys that the majority of people make most often. At the very least there should be comprehensive park and ride schemes operating in every large city, removing the need for commuters to clog up city centres simply trying to get to and from work.


Improving bus services


Bizley added that the UK needs to reverse the current trend and make more rather than less cash available for councils and combined authorities to improve bus services, in both urban and, particularly in, rural areas.


“While rail use is clearly popular, for the vast majority of people the most likely alternative mode of public transport is the bus. It is therefore essential the Government maintains strong investment in the UK’s roads – as buses, as well as cars, cyclists, and even trams, rely on good quality roads.


The full RAC Report on Motoring can be read here


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