Road and Rail Travel Trends

In recent years there has been a marked stagnation in car travel demand in the UK. Research has indicated that this may be an international phenomenon: we are seeing a levelling off in car travel demand in developed countries once GDP per capita has passed a certain level. At the same time rail travel growth has been substantially higher in the UK than in other comparable countries. This project is investigating the reasons behind this phenomenon in the UK, its relation to increased rail travel, and modelling the effects this will have on other modes of travel.

Road and Rail travel (Image licensed for noncommercial use under Creative Commons CC0)

The first phase of the study began in 2012 and included a national Call for Evidence on this topic. For more information and to read the submissions please click here. The report from the first phase of this research, using NTS data to 2007, is entitled On the Move: Making sense of car and rail travel trends in Britain, by Professor Peter Jones OBE and Scott Le Vine. A Scottish version of the report was released in summer 2013 and a supplement looking at van travel trends in October 2013. An update of the study, looking at trends during the recession and afterwards (2008-14) was released in 2016 (see below).

The second phase of the study involved an attitudinal study as well as mining data from the commercial sector for details of behavioural change. In July 2015, the ITC released these findings in our report On the Move: Exploring attitudes to road and rail travel in Britain authored by Social Research Associates. In this report, the researchers investigated attitudes among four key groups that have each had a particularly strong impact upon overall travel trends: younger people, pensioners, migrants and business travellers. The findings are the results of data collected from almost 5000 residents, drawing from a range of consultation exercises including interviews, survey work and group discussions.

In December 2016, the ITC published an update to our previous ‘On the Move’ reports to include data from 2007-2014. Recent trends in road and rail travel: What do they tell us? On the Move 2 (1995-2014): Overview and policy analysis was also accompanied by a Technical Report authored by researchers Peter Headicar and Gordon Stokes. With the publication of several years of new NTS data sets, the ITC believed it was timely to update the original ‘On the Move’ study in order to investigate whether the recession and economic climate had caused any medium-term change in the travel trends identified, or whether these had actually been continuing.

Our research has now identified rapidly changing travel trends in Britain. Moving forward, we need to understand better why travel behaviour is shifting, and whether these trends are likely to slow down or even reverse in the near future. The ITC is now moving forward with a research programme exploring the drivers behind rail passenger growth and the causes of the decline in bus travel.

After many decades of continuous decline through to the mid-1990s, rail passenger traffic since then has reversed this decline and has grown consistently during the last twenty years. This pattern of rail passenger growth has been distributed widely across England and has occurred consistently on all three rail sectors: long distance; regional; and London and South East. The aim of this research project is to understand the reasons why this reversal in rail passenger demand took place in the 1990s and why rail has continued to grow rapidly and consistently since then. The main emphasis within this research will be on those longer-term factors affecting door-to-door travel, which influence the demand for rail passenger traffic, but which are external to the rail industry itself. A report will be published in 2018.

At the same time bus travel has declined significantly in England, although this pattern has not been even, with substantial growth in London and certain other cities including Reading and Brighton. To understand these trends better the ITC is embarking on a new project exploring the factors that have been driving bus travel demand. This will report in early 2019. We are grateful to the trustees of the Rees Jeffreys Road Fund for a generous grant which has made this study possible.