DfT report reveals each generation “driving less than their predecessors”

A new report commissioned by the Department for Transport has found that each passing generation is driving less within urban areas, in particular were convenient alternatives are provided.

Undertaken by NatCen Social Research, the research reveals a pattern of trends that are already in motion, such as young people’s propensity to avoid car use in urban areas, if alternatives are easily accessible. In rural areas, where far less congestion exists and travel distances often greater, the trend is understandable less pronounced.

“Each cohort is driving less than their predecessors as they age,” offers the white paper, adding “but when older people do make a shift this is more sustained. Certain groups, such as women and people from minority ethnic backgrounds, are less likely to adopt active travel. Deprived communities appear to benefit from active transport initiatives and interventions, especially where they are involved early on in deciding aims and features of design.”

This generational progression, researchers say, can be kept on track without hard interventions if there is a continued support for active transport infrastructure. The findings do come at a time when the Transport Minister Grant Shapps is facing a backlash on the planned £27 billion roads investment having been found to have ignored advice that policy guidance was outdated and incompatible with broader goals on climate and congestion. The spend on roads funding is more than 13 times that allocated to active travel.

Stark contrasts do exist in communities, in particular when it comes to the disparity between socially disadvantaged groups and women, who tend to be less likely to make active transport lifestyle changes without direct intervention in the form of community improvements or incentives.

Schemes like the Low Traffic Neighbourhoods ,which though controversial are broadly supported by the public, have seen people driving less and making more trips by active means. This week an FOI request found that such schemes, contrary to press clippings, are not detrimental to emergency service response times.

“More evidence is needed to consider the experience and needs of disadvantaged groups across all types of travel mode switch. We know that rates of active travel are lower among groups such as women and ethnic minorities, but the reasons may be a complex interplay of individual perceptions, personal circumstances and location. We need to better understand this interplay and the barriers faced by disadvantaged groups in order to encourage greater public and active travel mode switch,” writes the study.

Direct factors that reduce car reliance most are the removal of widespread parking options or city centre accessibility when space is reallocated to citizens. The trend of driving less was found to sustain best when active transport alternatives and strong public transport offerings were available.

Financial incentives can further drive sustained change, with employers paid to remove parking options cited as a driver, alongside long-standing schemes like the Cycle to Work salary sacrifice plan.

“As well as direct subsidies, cycling can be encouraged as part of a wider infrastructure development by providing safe cycle routes, separated from other vehicles, and support with bike maintenance. In the case of e-bikes, a scheme in Brighton showed that the opportunity to ‘try before you buy’ encourages people both to cycle more and potentially purchase one of the bikes a year after the trial,” writes the report’s segment on shifting car use to cycle uptake.

The greatest odds of success come from encouraging people to undertake short journeys outside of the car, but often to begin the transition an interruption to the routine may be required.

“There is evidence that lifetime transitions (e.g. losing a job, having children, retiring) may be key moments in which mode shifts can be encouraged. However, the evidence is mixed about the degree to which these can be sustained. Furthermore, some evidence shows that improving access to and affordability of both public and active transport can make a difference in helping those who are unemployed to find work,” offers the report.

To read more of the findings, catch the report in full here.