Car use almost back to pre-pandemic levels: Public transport recovery very weak

EXCLUSIVE: Fears of a car-based recovery – putting a hole through modal shift ambitions and reversing the trend of increasing public transport use – are borne out by the latest official figures.

Last week, car use was almost identical as the same dates pre-pandemic (2019), while public transport use was at best 60% (bus) but only 40% (rail and London Underground).

The statistics, published every Wednesday by the Department for Transport, show transport use as a percentage, compared with pre-pandemic conditions, for the same day. The figures cover England, Scotland and Wales only.

While an expected spike in car use came on 12 April – when non-essential shops and outdoor dining re-opened in England – many people used the following two weekends to get out and about.

Last Saturday (24 April) saw the biggest car use – at 96% of the same date pre-pandemic – and 95% on the Sunday.

In contrast, while there was an increase in public transport use, it was nowhere near as great.

Transport use in Great Britain, compared with the same date pre-pandemic in 2019 Source:DfT

The figures are classed as ‘estimated’ for road, but are accurate for other use, such as rail, where data is taken directly from the ticketing system, although they are listed as ‘provisional’ for the last seven days, until the data has ‘matured’. Details about the methodology are here

The figures are also borne out by town centre footfall, for example this from Reading, Berkshire, produced for the Central Reading Business Improvement District.

Reading town centre footfall week commencing 12 April 2021, compared with the same weeks in 2020 and 2019

It shows data for w/c12 April (annotated ‘this week’) compared with the week before, the same week in 2020 (in the middle of the first lockdown) and the same week in 2019 (pre-Covid).

The full DfT figures can be downloaded below:

UPDATE: Detail of Scotland’s figures show that car use is now higher than pre-pandemic levels. Story here

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