More than a third of UK drivers – the equivalent of 14.7m – say they are more dependent on using their car than 12 months ago, with public transport too often seen as an expensive and unreliable alternative, data released as part of the latest RAC Report on Motoring shows.
The figures show a further rise in the proportion of drivers who say they rely on their cars as their main mode of transport – increased dependency is up from 33% in 2018, and from 27% a year earlier, and is now at its highest proportion in the past seven years.
Just 14% of drivers (the equivalent of around 5.9m people) say they have become less dependent than a year ago, though this has also increased from 12% in 2018 indicating a small rise in those saying they are less dependent on their vehicles.
At a time when the Government and local councils are keen for drivers to use their cars less frequently to improve air quality and cut congestion, the RAC believes the findings are a stark reminder of the reality for many people, especially those who live outside the biggest cities – that for good or bad, millions of people remain enormously dependent on their cars for many types of journeys.
The top reasons drivers give for using their cars more are a greater need to transport family members (28%), family and friends moving further away (24%) and, perhaps most strikingly, a reduction in the provision or quality of public transport (25%) – with drivers in the North East (42%) significantly more likely to call this out as a reason for them increasingly turning to the car.
Drivers are particularly frustrated by the lack of feasible alternatives to the car for the journeys they need to make, according to the data. Most – 57%, the equivalent of almost 23.9m people – say they would be willing to use their cars less if the quality of public transport was better, and agreement with this statement has been high for an incredible 11 consecutive years. Around half of drivers say they are frustrated by the lack of feasible alternative modes of transport for long journeys, with a similar proportion saying the same about short journeys. These figures both rise to 55% for drivers aged between 25 and 44.
RAC data insight spokesman Rod Dennis said: “These findings present the stark reality for so many people in the UK – that for good or bad, in 2020 the car remains an essential means of getting about whether that is for commuting, dropping off and collecting children or going to visit family and friends.
“While the car might be the obvious choice for many people’s journeys, especially for those who have already invested a lot of money in buying or leasing one, it is also clear just how frustrated many drivers are with the lack of decent alternatives for some of their trips. For more than a decade now, drivers have been saying that they are willing to use their cars less if public transport was better – and this year’s figures indicate it’s the high cost and low frequency of services that are the biggest problems cited by drivers. At the same time, many drivers continue to believe that public transport does not suit their needs for the sorts of journeys they have to make.
“The ongoing challenge for national and local government, and combined authorities, is therefore to deliver credible alternatives to the car for specific journeys that are regularly completed by a lot of people. Connecting large residential areas with popular locations for work would surely be a good starting point – giving drivers the opportunity to swap sitting in daily traffic jams for a fast, frequent alternative. Greater investment in walking and cycling infrastructure could also go a long way to encouraging drivers to use of their cars less, especially for short journeys that make up around a quarter of all drivers’ trips.
“But it remains the case that short of cheap, reliable and integrated public transport systems operating all over the UK, it is very difficult to see things changing radically in the years ahead. The car remains an integral part of so many people’s lives, whether that is for carrying heavy shopping, transporting family members or going to visit friends in all the corners of the UK.”