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Cycle more, drive less once pandemic ends, urges AA president

Edmund King predicts big post-crisis shift in commuting patterns, and says lockdown has highlighted benefits of active travel

AA president Edmund King is urging people to cycle more and drive less once the coronavirus pandemic ends, saying that the recent months have helped underline the benefits of active travel and reducing car dependency.

Speaking to the Independent, King highlighted three areas where he believes lasting change in travel habits can happen post-pandemic – active travel, commuting, active travel, and switching to electric vehicles.

Despite his role with the motoring organisation, he has long advocated using modes of transport best suited to the journey being made, be that train, car, or by bike and on foot, and he believes that restrictions on travel in recent months have revealed the benefits of active travel to many when it comes to short trips.

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“Most of us have learnt in lockdown you don’t need to drive a long way to get your shopping, carry out essential services,” King said.

“There are lots of things that can be done locally. So think local after lockdown and to consider that you don't have to always make those long trips.

“You can walk, you can cycle. And one of the good things during lockdown is seeing far more people cycling.

“So when this all passes, hopefully some of us can think about not being so dependent on the car and using the best means for the best journey.

“Often that's using two feet or two wheels,” continued King, who also predicted a reduction in the number of households owning multiple motor vehicles, as well as more switching to electric vehicles due to advances in the technology and increased ranges that can be covered before recharging.

On the subject of commuting, King pointed out the big reduction in travel to work brought about by the coronavirus crisis, with many businesses closed or permitting employees to work from home, and King believes that shift towards the latter will be permanent,

“In the past people would work nine till five,” he said. “Everyone would get into their car, onto the train, onto the buses, onto the Tube, all at the same time.

“We have found that you don’t necessarily have to do that, and you can still work.”

He suggested that once the economy fully reopens, many might still only travel into work for between one and three days a week, which he said “would have a massive effect on reducing congestion and pollution, and it would be better for our well-being.”

In response to claims that only a full return to commuting could help city-centre businesses recover, he said: “To balance that, it’s also helped a lot of local economies in towns and villages where people live. It’s actually meant that the people working from home are using those facilities.

“If people are working from home two or three days a week, that can still contribute to the economic in the cities. It’s getting that balance right.”

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The government has made encouraging people to travel on foot or bike where possible and avoid unnecessary car use as a key part of its plans for recovery from the pandemic.

However, levels of motor traffic during the current national lockdown are well above those seen when restrictions were first brought in last March, leading to near-empty roads.

Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.

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