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Time to Rethink Travel: Why more should opt for public over private transport

Image credit: DALL.E (AI generated)

Transport Statistics for Great Britain 2022 revealed our nation's travel habits, showing a pronounced preference for private transport. On average, individuals in England made 757 trips in 2021, with an overwhelming 703 of these by private means.

Some of those forms of private travel include active mobility like walking and cycling. In fact, walking saw 235 trips per person made, alongside an average 15 per person made by cycling. Car or van travel, at 447 trips, was the most utilised mode. In stark contrast, public transport accounted for just 53 trips per person, with buses leading the way at 27 trips, followed by rail at 19 trips. Interestingly, taxis and minicabs made up a just 7 trips annually.

This heavy reliance on private vehicles has several significant implications for the environment, urban congestion, and public health. There has long been a case for shifting more of our private journeys to public transport. Let’s explore why making this change could be not just beneficial, but necessary.

Environmental Benefits

One of the most pressing reasons to switch from private to public transport is the environmental impact. Private cars, especially those powered by internal combustion engines, are a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. According to the Department for Transport, transport is responsible for about 27% of the UK's total carbon emissions, with the majority coming from road transport. Buses and trains, on the other hand, are significantly more energy-efficient per passenger mile. Taxi vehicles are also often heavily regulated, like in London, whereby nearly 60% of black cabs are already Zero-Emission Capable (ZEC). Encouraging a shift towards public transport can play a crucial role in reducing our carbon footprint and combating climate change.

Reducing Urban Congestion

Urban congestion is another critical issue exacerbated by the prevalence of private car use. The National Travel Survey reports that heavy traffic is a common problem in cities, leading to longer travel times and increased fuel consumption. Public transport options like buses and trains can carry far more passengers than cars, which helps to ease congestion. In turn, this can lead to smoother, quicker commutes and less time wasted in traffic jams. Taxis are seen as a perfect ‘last and first mile’ option that complements longer train journeys and those with extra mobility requirements not served by active transport and other public transport modes.

Economic Advantages

Economically, public transport offers several advantages. It can be a cost-effective alternative for individuals and reduce the need for expensive infrastructure investments required to support high levels of car use. The cost of owning and maintaining a private vehicle, including fuel, insurance, and parking, often far exceeds the cost of public transport. Additionally, widespread use of public transport can stimulate job creation within the transport sector and contribute to economic growth through more efficient movement of people.

Health and Safety

Public transport also contributes to public health and safety. Increased use of buses and trains can lead to fewer road accidents and associated fatalities, which are disproportionately high in car-dominant societies. Furthermore, active travel associated with public transport, such as walking to bus stops or train stations, promotes physical activity, which is beneficial for overall health. Reduced air pollution from fewer cars on the road also translates to lower rates of respiratory illnesses and other pollution-related health issues.

Accessibility and Social Equity

Public transport enhances accessibility and promotes social equity. Providing buses, taxis and trains provides essential mobility for those who do not own a car, such as low-income families, the elderly, and those with disabilities. Ensuring that everyone has access to affordable and reliable transport is crucial for social inclusion and equal opportunities. Expanding public transport options can also reduce the urban-rural divide, giving residents in remote areas better access to services and opportunities.

Policy and Infrastructure

Encouraging a shift towards public transport requires supportive policies and investment in infrastructure. This includes expanding public transport networks, improving service frequency and reliability, and making services more affordable. Initiatives such as dedicated bus lanes, park-and-ride schemes, and subsidies for public transport to shift to cleaner vehicles can incentivise more people to leave their cars at home.

The statistics are clear: a vast majority of trips are still being made by private transport which offer no investment into the public transport realm. Given the environmental, economic, and social benefits of public transport, it maybe time for a collective shift in travel habits. By opting for buses, trains, and taxis, we can reduce our carbon footprint, alleviate urban congestion, and promote a more equitable and sustainable society.


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