With a larger proportion of the workforce choosing to drive to work in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, rising congestion could cost everyone in the UK more than £2,000 a year, according to Cycling UK. The charity has therefore called for improved walking and cycling networks, arguing that the cost of failing to provide alternatives to car travel are too great.
The RAC’s recent Report on Motoring indicated that there has been a significant change in public attitudes towards public transport in the wake of coronavirus. Only 43% of people said they would use their cars less in a post pandemic world if there were better public transport – a sharp fall from 57% in 2019, and the lowest figure since 2002.
Government figures from September 21 to October 4 this year seem to demonstrate that. While only around 59.3% of the UK workforce were working at their normal place of work compared to pre-Covid levels, they were nevertheless generating 88% of pre-Covid weekday car traffic.
If the entire workforce returns to their normal place of work and behaves similarly, car traffic could mushroom, potentially reaching 150% of pre-Covid levels.
The Government’s own traffic forecasts estimate that a 50% increase in vehicle miles would lead to an exponential increase in congestion, with the percentage of traffic in congested conditions increasing by 129%.
Cycling UK points out this sort of rise in traffic would cause life changing delays to blue light services and also huge financial costs.
The INRIX global traffic scorecard calculated that congestion cost the average UK road user £894 last year. Cycling UK’s head of campaigns, Duncan Dollimore, says that if congested conditions more than double, congestion costs could reach over £15bn per year – or around £2,000 per road user.
“For the economy to lose £7bn a year for people to sit in traffic before the pandemic was wasteful – to potentially double that when there are alternatives staring us in the face is criminal,” he said.
“While forecasting congestion costs is not an exact science, it’s clear more people driving will be disastrous for the economy, right when it needs all the help it can get.
“We need a better balance in how we make our travel choices. That means more cycling and walking networks – not less; more opportunities for people to access e-bikes; and better integration with public transport once people feel confident to take the bus or train again.
“Making our streets and roads safe for children to walk and cycle to school is not a bad thing – and will actually take cars off the road, reducing congestion. Building back better is an ambition which we should all be able to embrace.”
Philip Harrison, Strategic Project Lead for Clinical Improvement at University Hospitals Birmingham said: “At University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust we serve a population of over three million people and employ over 22,000 staff. We see the impact that the over-use of cars, vans and trucks has on our staff and patients on a daily basis.
“Delays to vital ambulance services caused by congestion; illnesses exacerbated by pollution; injuries which are a direct result of our over-populated roads – these problems can be tackled if people have safe attractive alternatives to driving for those shorter journeys.
“We welcome any initiative to reduce the impact of motor traffic in the region, like new segregated bike lanes, and encourage staff and patients to take advantage of the growing facilities to cycle or walk to our sites.”
Dollimore said: “Many people jump in the car because they don’t think there’s a realistic alternative. For some trips and some people there might not be, but most trips in the UK – to the shops, work or dropping the kids off at school – are under five miles.
“Nobody’s suggesting that every one of those journeys will be walked or cycled, but a lot of them could be.
“What we need to make sure we get right for post-pandemic UK is the creation of other options for those shorter journeys to driving – that means cycle lanes separated from traffic and low traffic neighbourhoods. The cost to the individual and economy is too great not to do otherwise.”