Reading time: 3 minutes
What does the image show?
The image shows how regular use of different forms of transport have changed over the course of the pandemic. Regular use is defined as using a form of transport three days a week or more. So, an increase in occasional weekend cycling or leisure rail trips would not be captured on this measure. A key finding from our data which continues to grow in importance is the continued rise in people walking three times a week or more. This occurred despite people also returning to more regular use of other modes for their regular journeys. There has been a continued increase in regular car driving, but still 8% down on pre-pandemic levels. Bus use continues to grow but remains at a half of pre-pandemic levels whilst train travel is stagnant.
Why is this important?
A key question is what the balance will be between different modes following the pandemic. This data relates to summer 2021 where most restrictions were lifted. Car traffic in England has not yet returned to pre-pandemic levels during the week and this appears to be born out through the data here. However, it has returned more strongly than bus and rail journeys and we have yet to see the early surge in cycling turn into more people cycling more regularly.
Overall, the data challenges the doomsday scenario that there is an entirely car-based recovery but it provides depth to the warning signals that public transport is lagging behind. However, our analysis shows that those who had to travel to work were more likely to be car-based commuters than those who worked from home who were more likely to be rail users. The balance may move again once offices begin to operate in a more normal manner.
However, the key take away which almost every other data source we are aware of has missed is that walking levels are still up on pre pandemic and on periods where pandemic restrictions were high. This suggests that people value some activity in the day even when they are at home and that having experienced walking more when this was one of the few options open to them they have continued this. Policy responses should consider what kinds of investments might improve the walking environment to help maintain this.
Car use, as driver or passenger, decreased during June 2020, and has not yet completely returned to pre-pandemic levels. Van and cycle use has remained fairly constant throughout. Bus use in June 2021 is half of pre-pandemic levels. Train use is less than half of pre-pandemic levels. Walking has increased as a trnasport mode, from 36% pre-pandemic to 58% in June 2021.