Monday, 30 September 2019

How, why and how far we travel: trends since 2002

The National Travel Survey for 2018 has been published - you may have noticed the reporting on aircraft travel. I have been looking at other aspects of our travel patterns: why we travel, how and how far. There are some interesting changes since 2002:

  • Walking distance has hardly changed but we are cycling more
  • All other modes of transport are down except for rail travel
  • Business related travel, shopping and visiting friends all substantially down

The survey allows us to see more detail than this. For example, between 2005 and 2015 we walked less and less. In 2015 we took 15% less trips than in 2002 (though on average they were longer then now). Then we reversed those changes in the last three years. In contrast, for cycling we make no more trips now than before but we go 60% further each time and this trend has been fairly steady through the whole period.

Relative changes in active travel modes, indexed to 1 in 2002 Data from [1].

Comparing buses and trains (outside London), we take the bus less frequently (down 30%) but journeys are slightly longer than before. In contrast we take 60% more train trips and they are on average just 20% shorter.
Relative changes in public transport: trains and buses (outside London), indexed to 1 in 2002. Data from [1]

As for car travel, the average trip distance is hardly changed (around 8.5 miles per trip) but the number of trips made is down about 12%.

We are commuting and shopping less than before. In both cases the distance per trip is little changed but the frequency is down: 14% down for commuting and 17% down for shopping.  This means an overall drop of 120 miles/year for commuting and 160 miles/year for shopping. The reduction in shopping is probably explained by shopping online instead. Are we working from home more as well?

We are also visiting friends less often at home but this is slightly offset by meeting more often in another place like a pub or a restaurant. In combination, the distance travelled for visiting friends is down by around 220 miles per year, the biggest reason for overall mileage change. 
Relative changes in how we visit friends.

These changes are still fairly small and overall the distance travelled is down by just 7%. The overall carbon emissions (simply multiplying distance by current carbon factors for each mode) are down a little more: about 10%.  This is mainly due to the reduction in car travel. To reach net zero emissions we are going to need a much bigger shift, or an awful lot of electric cars.

[1] National Travel Survey 2018 ( July 2019

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