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RAC: Post-pandemic alternative to public transport is needed

Published 09 November 2020

More than half of UK drivers (57 per cent) say having access to a car is more important than it was before the coronavirus pandemic, research for the RAC’s annual Report on Motoring has found.

The majority (64 per cent) of the 3068 drivers surveyed still expect to drive to offices or other places of work in the future, a figure which is almost unchanged on the 67 per cent who said they did so before the pandemic.

Despite the rise in home deliveries, nearly seven in 10 drivers (68 per cent) say a car is essential for carrying items like shopping. Meanwhile, for the first time since 2002, fewer than half of drivers (43 per cent) say they would use their cars less, even if public transport was improved – down sharply from 57 per cent in 2019.

Taken at face value, the declining appeal of public transport seemingly represents a seismic shift compared to recent years, and suggests drivers are more wedded to their cars than they have been for a long time. It also reflects ongoing safety concerns of using potentially crowded public transport systems.

The coronavirus aside, the reasons drivers give for not opting for the bus, train or tram for some trips is consistent with previous years. Nearly half (46 per cent) say fares are too high, 43 per cent say services don’t run when they need them to and 41 per cent say services aren’t frequent enough.

RAC spokesperson Rod Dennis said: "As cities seek to improve air quality and make urban centres cleaner places, it’s clear that low-cost, efficient alternatives to the car need further thinking and much greater financial investment. Park and ride sites make a lot of sense and cater for the many people who are too far from regular public transport networks, but perhaps now is the time for the concept to evolve to encompass park and cycle, park and walk, or even park and scoot.

"A failure to invest in adequate alternatives for drivers keen on accessing town and city centres risks stifling the recovery of these areas as shopping and tourist destinations as we eventually come out of the coronavirus pandemic."


Micky Myers    on 9 November 2020

South Yorkshire, late 70s, Early 80s had a fantastic subsidised bus service until Thatcher messed it up. Buses were well occupied and ran because they were carrying people. Everyone contributed through local taxes. Now, even before the pandemic, buses run empty. The private companies aren’t that bothered because the government still pays! What a total mess the Tories have made of this country…

jimboWatson    on 9 November 2020

Before the pandemic, I would drive into the outskirts of Glasgow and jump on my e-folder ((folding e-bike) However, the council are driving us motorists further and further away from the city as all the free parking spaces are rapidly being turned into metered or non existent. This makes my blood boil as I will not get the train or bus before or even after the pandemic It's too over crowded, under funded and over priced. So what are we to do????

Edited by jimboWatson on 09/11/2020 at 19:15

Plodding Along    on 9 November 2020

Hear hear! Totally correct! And I don't know why we continue to call it public transport because it is private and is run for profit. We live just 15 miles from the centre of Manchester and it is not possible to have a night in the city by going on public transport. The bus to the nearest Metrolink Tram station is about 6 miles away but it takes and hour! Then, to come back home later we can't get back from that tram stations as the last bus is at 7pm! We basically have no usable public transport to serve us. And what little there is, is overly expensive. As usual, Tory governments have done everything wrong. They privatised public transport making it expensive, dirty and unreliable. They then told people to stop driving their cars and use public transport! Give us a proper, affordable, reliable, safe, integrated public transport service, which exists nowhere outside of London, which, as usual, gets the best of everything and far more money spent per capita than the rest of the country - and people might just use it.

Edited by Plodding Along on 09/11/2020 at 19:25

GTC20th    on 9 November 2020

There is no doubt we will be needing better, more reliable and low emissions public transport going forward. Mind you, given the ridiculous mess the public sector has made of things recently I doubt they are up to the job. Also, expecting people to cycle or ride silly scooters is fine if there are traffic free routes for them. We do indeed need a radical rethink of our transport system, probably rethinking where we build housing and places of work in the future. In the meantime most of us will stick to our cars to give us the freedom and flexibility we need. Plus some of us just enjoy driving.

Arthur Gardiner    on 9 November 2020

It's funny isn't it? You'd think these intelligent people would think 'Right we need to have a system where everything is connected to each other - trains, taxis, buses, trams cycleways, etc, so that when someone or persons want to get from A to B it's possible with minimum hassle.' But it doesn't seem to tick any councillor, MPs or Mayors (useless officers!) boxes.

Eric Haigh    on 10 November 2020

Ah, the good old never-in-a-million-years Republic of South Yorkshire. What a subsidy rich life you led in those days. Public transport was cheap, frequent and reliable. Local bus drivers knew each of you, made sure you got to your shifts on time and the only cars in the car park belonged to union leaders and management. Your working wives and family benefited too; kids got safely to and from school. You grafted and by using public transport you kept it going. I know, I was there. I also saw, at close hand, what came next.

Misled by Comrade Scargill (I will at least give him the courtesy of the appropriate honorific) he used you for his own militant political ambitions. In calling strike after strike, commanding flying pickets across the country, trying to hold the nation to ransom and bring down the Government he did more to hasten the closure of the mining industry than any previous NUM official or presiding Government Minister and with it went your lovely bus service. And he did in the name of all those miners who's union dues spiralled higher almost every month whilst lining his own deep pockets - as criminal charges later showed. He even tried to use Margaret Thatcher's flagship Right To Buy scheme to gain ownership of his second home Barbican flat in Central London on which the NUM had for years been paying the £34,000 a year rent. Value in 2012 - £1.5 million! At age 19 he couldn't wait to get out of Woolley Pit and on to full time union business around the world at your expense. What a hypocrite.

Putting politics aside, you sound bitter. Desirous of olden days in another world where a socialist State looked after you. If you've lost your bus services because no-one used them then look in your own garage, your own driveway, outside the front of your own house. How many cars can you see? How many cars have your old workmates now got who similarly enjoyed the old bus services? Cars which only the pit bosses and union officials used to be able to afford. Here we are today with a main car which dad takes to work and leaves parked up awaiting his convenience for the trip back home. No standing at rainy bus stops these days. Second cars that are used to go to supermarkets instead of a bus to shops round the corner. Second cars used to take kids to and from school, or dance class, football academy, whatever but which otherwise sit idle all day. A third car for the eldest kid when they start college or uni, and so on.

How many now own their own homes? How many foreign holidays do they take each year on the back of cheap air travel offered by private companies? How many wouldn't be seen dead on a bus these days? Look in the mirror, as they say.

The total mess you say the Tories have made of this country is surely not reflected in the above snapshot of the personal transport freedom you are now able to afford and enjoy by choice. I agree that far too much taxpayers money is casually wasted with impunity on private bus and train operators - and don't get me going about the massive open cast played out money pit that the undeliverable HS2 was always destined to be (not a hope it was ever going to reach your Republic either) - but neither is that the sole fault of the Tories. Brown signed off HS2, gave away our gold and dropped us in the mire. Blair lied throughout. Wilson, having quit first time around 'cos he couldn't handle the power of the unions, was given a second chance and handed Callaghan a busted flush with Inflation running at 17%, 1.5 million unemployed, an 83% tax rate, the dead not buried and uncollected rubbish lining the streets. The Winter of Discontent sat fair square in the middle of the late 70's early 80's that you're looking back on with dewy eyes.

I haven't been a fan of any party for decades. Add them all together and there's not a statesman among them, but when you've got a persistent, disabling, ever worsening wisdom tooth ache then a dentist with pliers is your only option if you want to come through it and recover. Yes it's gonna hurt but not as much as doing nothing about it. That's the decision Labour had left Margaret Thatcher facing. Militant South Yorkshire was not going to take over the country no matter how good its subsidised bus service was. Tough times and struggles on both sides certainly and Mrs T didn't enjoy the pain caused but it had to be done for the nation to recover and regain its strength. A small reminder of those times

Cars continue to be the way ahead for personal transport tailored for individual needs and the Government must recognise and provide for that. We can't look back. Bicycles and buses? Nah. What next - nice horses and nostalgic stage coaches pulling up at traffic lights leaving bio mass everywhere? Zero emissions is a pipe dream and a clean power generation a nightmare. Cars it is and cars it has to be. The irony is that ever more stringent safety regulations to compensate for the inattention of lousy drivers have bulked out today's cars to a point where they're now the size of a bus!

Edited by HJ Editor on 11/11/2020 at 14:36

Micky Myers    on 10 November 2020

Interesting. I wasn’t a miner, but Scargill was absolutely right. His did is best to protect his union members, little did we know that Thatcher’s policies would have such far reaching consequences for the whole country! I would agree with your assessment of the foreign holiday culture, yet another consequence of the damaging Thatcher influenced movement during the 80s. Just out of interest Eric, what made you so bitter?

aethelwulf    on 10 November 2020

Labour had many years to sort it out. What did Blair do ? Wage war in a foreign country. Labour and conservative are both capitalist parties now you know. The old order is no more .

Micky Myers    on 10 November 2020

And so it goes again...

DLDLDL    on 10 November 2020

I suspect that with the exception of the inter-city train home at the week-end many MPs relationships with privatised "public" transport operators is as a shareholder not as a passenger?

conman    on 10 November 2020

Greater Manchester fantastic tram system.

From Shaw, Oldham by tram 1 hour, by car 25 minutes.

From city centre to Manchester airport by tram 1 hour, by car 25 minutes.

All Thatcher did was sell off OUR services Electric, Gas, Water Transport and now we are paying the price. We use to own them all and the money reinvested now we have to pay inflated prices to shareholders. France, Germany, China are laughing all the way to the bank.

P Menzies    on 10 November 2020

Public transport is ok in city centres if you are travelling on the spokes of the wheel,but when living out of the central area travelling across the spokes is very difficult and expensive. A journey I regularly take is 15 miles or 35 minutes by car, an hour and a half and £13 by public transport. Another consideration is public toilets, almost non existent on Londons tube network. I have come to the conclusion that if it's made difficult and expensive I won't bother and I'm afraid that's the opinion of a lot of joe public.

DLDLDL    on 10 November 2020

Not just City Centres - in "county areas" circumferential travel is next to impossible.

We in our county (one of the big ones with distinct sub areas that hardly mixed) now have a single "centralised specialised A&E" replacing three general hospitals' A&E departments. Known as Covid-central - a massive super-spreading site.

To get there from my town - 20 minute walk from the old general hospital - by road in an ambulance (blues & twos) takes an hour (known as the "golden hour"). By car, let's say approximately the same.

By public transport (daytime only - night-time you have to use a taxi - £65 one way):

  1. 20 mins Walk 1 mile to rail station
  2. 50 mins Train to regional "centre" in a different county
  3. 15 mins Suburban rail to a transport hub on edge of city
  4. 30 mins Bus to a town near the hospital
  5. 10 mins Bus from town to hospital

Total 2 Hours 5 minutes - plus all the connection times.

There is an A&E near the regional centre (actually two within about a mile) - but that is not "our A&E".

It's almost as if the situation was set up to have sick people and upset relatives driving when they really shouldn't be.

Edited by DLDLDL on 10/11/2020 at 23:59

hissingsid    on 10 November 2020

The village where I live is about 5 miles from the nearest town. There is a bus service, but it only runs every 2 hours and there is nothing at all after 5pm.
Like many other people who are too old to walk or cycle any distance, especially after dark, I rely on my car.

philthunder    on 10 November 2020

Have they never heard of a motorbike. 5% uptake they recon would solve traffic jams. Ah well I'm sure it will never happen!

Alan Goss    on 10 November 2020

As people have become more prosperous and cars relatively cheaper they have naturally moved to independent motorised transport. This is for convenience and comfort just as homes have developed similarly. This reduced the need for public transport which then declined.
When I tried using all public transport for work I found it was impossible due to busses stopping running before the normal train arrived at a station 7 miles from home and therefore had to resort to using a car and paying high parking charges. That was 50 years ago and it has got worse since!
People are now generally used to the convenience and comfort of transporting themselves as and when they want, to change that will need a massive investment in making public transport practical, available and affordable. That will be necessary before enforcing car users to change unless Government want to be very unpopular and risk their time in office.
Increasing the popularity of cycling was an aim during the pandemic. It worked to an extent during the good summer weather (to the detriment of other forms of transport including busses as roads were narrowed to form cycle lanes) but the popularity of cycling has now naturally declined with the advent of winter weather. Not many want to get cold and wet when there is an alternative.
Maybe, if the massive investment in public transport around towns cannot be provided, the only way forward to reduce pollution will be the development of electric vehicles but there will still need to be efficient road systems and parking for the cars.
Major supermarkets and retail outlets have moved to the outskirts of towns to reduce costs and ease access - by car. It takes me 10 minutes to drive for the weekly shopping. If I used public transport I would have to get a bus into town and then another back out to the retail estate taking over an hour, carrying 5-6 bags of shopping on the return journey.
Park and ride may assist for those living well outside towns if regular and affordable but still has the inconvenience of carrying purchases, and location. It is being considered where I live but would mean driving out away from the town a couple of miles along congested roads to then get a bus back into town when I could alternatively just drive a couple of miles into town.
I think it may be time to accept that life has moved on for the majority living outside towns (where massive new housing developments are taking place) and provide for the modern way of life. This does not make it any easier for those who do not drive but online shopping and deliveries are taking over. Even with this it should be accepted that the majority will still want to drive when going out for convenience and plan accordingly, it is difficult to envisage life going back to the 1950's easily.

paul mack    on 11 November 2020

Sorry, what was the subject about??

Eric Haigh    on 12 November 2020

Hi Micky. Just like the dockers, car workers, steel workers, binmen, transport and rail workers' union leaders, Scargill was wrong on all counts. He massaged and used the miners for his own ends. Some saw through him, a lot didn't. The Notts/Derby UDM members who wouldn't strike without a democratic ballot, a democratic ballot that Scargill refused, were in the first group. Followers of his Marxist doctrine who were happy to accept handouts from the USSR and Poland to feed their families whilst turning a blind eye to union officials with collecting buckets who were never without a nice joint of beef on their Sunday dinner table were in the second group. As I said, I was there.

The Labour Party, held together by and beholden to union funds, had lost control even of its own MPs. The increasingly militant and radical left had to be stopped, across all industries, before a Communist sea change swept the country and plunged us into a mirror image of the old Russian Republic.

You might have kept your subsidised buses but unsafe working practices would have been rife in bankrupt industries propped up by tax payers and IMF loans. Shops would have been empty. Slave labour rates would have prevailed whilst "our glorious Comrade Leaders" enjoyed a life of favour and privilege. Freedom of choice and thought would have been long gone, but above all else none of us would have been able to have a debate such as this on a public forum. So pardon me but what on earth have I got to be bitter about?

Thirty five years on, and in a country where community spirit, mutual respect and help for those in need is not only held in high regard but expected of all of us, the division of whole towns and villages, of fathers and sons, caused by Scargill's narcissistic intolerance of any dissent or disobedience among his NUM members is still there for all to see. No forgiveness for those who refused to man the picket lines, refused to abandon their family and picket factories across the country. No admission of responsibility for the intimidation by paid thugs of the families of those wanting to work. No apologies for those injured and killed by flying bricks. A deliberate and determined effort to violently contest and confront the law, bring down parliament and enable mob rule. To this day pubs and shops in those divided towns and villages are still boycotted because "they served scabs". It's shameful. It's inhuman, but that's Scargill's legacy. Do you still think he's absolutely right? And will you forever blame Margaret Thatcher? I suspect so.

My apologies for straying from the subject article's 2020 RAC car v. bus survey. Our own thoughts on here clearly bear out those of the 3,068 drivers who contributed to it. Not a single vote in favour of public transport as it sits, or stands, today. In every scenario the car wins hands down and the main message on here seems to be that buses and trams might work for intra town and city travel if taken at a time when operators want to work but for outer urban and rural areas you've not a snowballs chance in hell.

Hopefully, the full RAC report covers all parts of the country but doesn't say where the drivers were surveyed. If the picture of Newcastle is a clue then I suspect the increasing dissatisfaction with public transport would have been significantly stronger if they'd surveyed drivers in the countryside. As it is, the report will be looked at by someone in the Department for Transport. A brief summary will be sent upstairs to a Minister who's too busy creating reasons for HS2 to read the RAC report and who then, knowing there's no cash left in the kitty and realising he needs to be somewhere else calls to one of his lackies to get one of his drivers to "bring the car round". Understanding the needs of the motorist? Wilson's chosen Transport Minister was one Barbara Castle who didn't even have a driving licence. Not much different now really.

Apart from the numbers in the RAC report, two things shout at me. First, I hope their advocacy of clean low cost alternatives to the car in city centres does not include that made to measure muggers transport - the lawless e-scooter. I had my first altercation with one a couple of weeks ago. Neither I nor the rider was badly hurt as he unexpectedly appeared at speed from my left as I exited the tinned food and pickles aisle in my local Morrisons. "No need to shout at him like that. He's only a kid" she fumed. What can you do?

Second, the RAC seems to be openly inviting further restrictions to car use across the entire country and forcing motorists off the road and on to buses. They claim this will help the recovery of town and city centres long abandoned by shoppers and tourists. Abandoned in fact since the day the so called town and traffic planners paved them over and shut the motorist out.

Have I read that article correctly? What on earth is the Royal Anti-automobile Club thinking of? How dumb can you get?

Rip up the fancy bricks and paving slabs. Get some tarmac down, provide plenty of free no return half / one / two hour parking and open up the roads to cars of all types. Allow cars to move freely at low speed without stop and start every thirty yards and clobber overtime parkers, anyone with a filthy exhaust or sat in a parked car with the engine running. You'd be amazed how quickly those town and city centre shops opened up again re-creating jobs and a vibrancy lost years ago. Charge them sensible business rates instead filling the centres with free-loading charity shops. That should also sharpen up pedestrians long accustomed to jaywalking aimlessly as they blindly text away and walk into you like it's your fault.

Do all that and save yet another taxpayers fortune wasted on subsidies and profit guarantees for private enterprise. Do that now and save years of delays caused by consultants and contractors looking for an earner out of badly thought out and unnecessary blue sky vanity schemes. Do that now and get rid of all the jobsworths that have made a career out of fiddling with things that worked.

That, Mr RAC and your fancy Pall Mall bars and luncheon rooms where you entertain and hobnob with influential civil servants, green lobbyists and MPs alike, that is what you should be telling the policy makers instead of sucking up to their misguided daydreams of a smokeless car free society. While you're at it how about a report expressing the true frustrations of a very large section of society already unfairly overburdened with road taxes, rip-off insurance policies, spy cameras, on the spot fines and car wrecking potholes. Dare we hope? Hmm ....

BPL    on 17 November 2020

Small guided driverless electric or hydrogen fuel cell pods centrally controlled. They could join up to form a train if and when needed. The small compartments allow for COVID/other disease safe transport. The vulnerable could register and travel alone or in bubbles.

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