Weekend car use returns to pre-pandemic levels

Weekend car use has returned to pre-pandemic levels but demand for public transport remains low, new figures show.

The amount of cars on Britain’s roads compared with equivalent days in early February was 97% on Saturday and 100% on Sunday, according to Department for Transport (DfT) data.

Car use on Monday – the latest day for which data is available – was at 88%, partly due to many people continuing to work from home.

Passenger numbers on buses outside London were at 37% of pre-pandemic levels on Monday, while the latest confirmed figures for train use show it is at 28%.

Cycling is the mode of transport that has seen the biggest increase, at 126% of what it was before the crisis began.

AA president Edmund King said there has been “almost a complete reversal in car traffic trends since early lockdown”.

He told the PA news agency: “In the first few months traffic disappeared at weekends and in the evenings.

“This was due mainly to limited places that were open and messaging around only conducting essential journeys.

“Over the last few weekends traffic is back with a vengeance, with families breaking out of lockdown to staycation in the UK and visit the coast, countryside and shops.

TRANSPORT Coronavirus
(PA graphics)

“This weekend surge is also reflected in our breakdown figures.

“Families bored with being locked behind the same four walls for months are now breaking out, and whereas many used bikes and walking for local journeys, they are now jumping into their cars to go one step beyond.”

Stephen Joseph, a visiting professor at the University of Hertfordshire, claimed the figures highlight the need for “a bigger focus” on alternatives to car use for leisure travel.

He said potential solutions include establishing more park and ride schemes in rural areas and creating more hubs where people can transition from cars to walking, cycling and bus services.

“Otherwise the places that people come to – the seaside, national parks – will be destroyed by the traffic that’s bringing people there,” he warned.

“Leisure car use was congesting a lot of places pre-Covid. It’s going to be even worse now when there’s less public transport available.”

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