Congestion ahead: a faster route is now available

Possible, Active Travel Academy
Publication date: 
May 2020

Document types:

Document weight:

Document geography:

Geographical spread:


As lockdown eases in the UK and other countries, people are starting to go back to work. However, public transport capacity and demand are likely to be severely depressed for some time. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has suggested that physical distancing means the public transport network would be reduced to 10% of its former capacity. In London, Transport for London have suggested a figure of 15%. Government has told people to avoid public transport if at all possible, suggesting they walk, cycle, or drive.

Particularly in urban areas where many people commute by public transport, this has alarming implications. Many people lack the choice to drive, without a car in the household. While in theory cycling could serve shorter to medium length commutes, much evidence shows that without networks of cycle infrastructure that offer protection from motor vehicles, many people – and especially women4 – are reluctant to get on their bikes. Without better options, those with car access may well choose to drive, with negative impacts for congestion, air pollution, carbon emissions, injuries and physical activity . Others without car access may continue using public transport despite the risks.

This report responds to the challenge by seeking to quantify the scope for behaviour change among usual public transport commuters in the relatively short term. This includes (i) a shift to car use among those who have access to a motor vehicle and (ii) a shift to active travel among those with short to medium distance commutes. We consider both those whose ‘main mode’ of commute is bus, minibus or coach (henceforth ‘bus’ for brevity) and train, underground, metro, light rail or tram (henceforth ‘train’). While there is some overlap (e.g. in London multi-modal public transport commutes are common) these modes nonetheless have distinct characteristics in terms both of car ownership and distance. The report considers carbon impacts of a shift to the car, and health impacts from physical activity for a shift to active travel.