A car-based recovery looms: Action is needed

People living in London are more likely to buy a car sooner than planned than in any other region of the UK directly as a result of Covid-19.

That’s according to new figures from Close Brothers Motor Finance, showing that more than a fifth of Londoners – 21%– are now more likely to buy a car sooner than they had previously planned.

That’s twice as high as the national average of 11%, and the highest proportion of all the regions of the UK.

If this is correct, then fears about a car-based recovery could be proved correct.

Of course, simply buying a car can mean one-for-one replacement rather than an additional vehicle.

The forthcoming expansion of London’s Ultra Low Emission Zone (ULEZ) out from the city centre to everywhere inside the North Circular Road (A406) and South Circular Road (A205) – the circulars themselves are excluded – from 25 October is causing many people to re-assess their car situation.

ULEZ compliant cars are those that are Euro 4 or better (petrol) and Euro 6 (diesel). In other words, petrol cars built after 2005 and diesel cars built after 2015.

As ever, it’s money that does the talking. Driving a non-compliant car in the ULEZ attracts a daily charge of £12.50, and unlike the congestion charging zone, the ULEZ operates 24/7.

With people urged to avoid public transport as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, the UK has seen a resurgence in private car use over the last 12 months.

Figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) show that while car use is at between 80-90 per cent of pre-pandemic levels, Tube and London bus use still remain at 25% of pre-Covid levels.

National Rail is at 24% and bus outside London is 34%.

There is no doubt that the government’s highly-successful campaigns over the last 12 months telling people not to use public transport have been effective. Very effective.

Its most recent one, with heavy dystopian undertones, was heavily criticised by all transport operators, especially after scientific research proves that the risks of Covid transmission in public transport are exceptionally low.

It also reinforced the message that wasn’t given: ‘Covid doesn’t take the car’.

Messaging around public transport means many previous users now believe they will catch Covid as soon as they step on public transport

The DfT has agreed that it will help run national campaign to encourage bus and rail travel once ‘normality’ returns.

Close Brothers Motor Finance MD Seán Kemple says: “One of the most significant impacts of the pandemic for the motor industry is that it’s triggered a change in consumer sentiment toward car ownership.

“Many people have experienced increased reticence to use public transport as a result of Covid-19, and this is evidently the case in London – as a city usually heaving with commuters, Londoners are now bucking the trend and turning to car-buying instead.”

Worryingly, the figures also show that a quarter of 17-25 year olds now plan to buy a car sooner than they had previously planned, more than double the national average.

The same demographic also leads in terms of intentions to drive more in 2021, with 65% of the age bracket saying they will use their car more due to the pandemic.

For the country as a whole, the figure falls to 37%.

We should remember that what people tell a survey is different to what they actually do. And, especially in London the cost of learning to drive, insuring a car – then finding somewhere to park it – plus the congestion when driving mean the reality of car ownership suddenly becomes less attractive, when set against the very cheap public transport fares.

We need to take action to return people to public transport and as the economy re-opens, keep a close eye on the statistics for travel and car ownership to see whether the survey’s prediction is correct.

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