New analysis by the Mayor of London has shown how the badly the Covid-19 pandemic has dented public transport use and has said car trips remain too high.
Throughout the pandemic, public transport ridership plummeted by 95% and is currently still significantly behind pre-pandemic levels, with buses at 70% of normal demand and Tubes at 55%.
The analysis shows London car travel has been the most resilient transport mode throughout the pandemic, with usage close to pre-pandemic levels for much of the latter half of 2021.
The Mayor estimates the traffic on London’s roads cost the capital’s economy £5.1 billion a year, or £1,211 per driver.
The figures show more than a third of car trips made by Londoners could be walked in under 25 minutes and two thirds could be cycled in under 20 minutes.
The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, said: “While we have made huge strides in increasing walking and cycling in London throughout the pandemic, car use has remained consistently high.
“If we do not double down on our efforts to deliver a greener, more sustainable future we will replace one public health crisis with another – caused by filthy air and gridlocked roads.”
Khan said the cost to Londoners and the capital cannot be underestimated, with days wasted stuck in traffic, as well as the impact to health.
He added: “Most traffic is caused simply by there being too great a demand for limited street space, meaning the only long-term solution can be to significantly reduce car use in favour of greener means of travel.”
Time for bold measures
Nick Bowes, chief executive of Centre for London, said the latest figures suggest more needs to be done to reduce car use.
He said the effectiveness of the Congestion Charge has diminished over time, particularly as it only affects those that drive through central London.
Bowes suggested: “The Mayor needs to be bold and introduce a simpler, smarter and fairer system of road user charging which replaces both the Congestion Charge and the Ultra Low Emission Zone.
“Such a scheme would tackle congestion, improve air quality and promote travel by public transport, walking and cycling, by charging drivers by the mile. It could also play a key role in filling the hole in Transport for London’s budget.”
Digging into the data
There have been some wins for active travel during the pandemic, with cycling increasing by 22% in outer London and an increase of 7% for inner London.
However, the overall active, efficient and sustainable mode share for travel in 2020 - the number of trips by walking, cycling and public transport, as a proportion of all trips - is estimated at 58.3% compared to 63.2% in 2019.
This is the key metric the Mayor is trying to increase as part of London’s Transport Strategy.
The 5% reduction overall during the pandemic is the result of a higher proportion of trips now being driven and a 14% drop in the share of trips made by public transport.
Since 2011, as London has grown in population, it has also experienced a huge increase in the number of miles driven on its roads – rising by 3.5 billion miles between 2011 and 2019 - from 19.1 billion miles in 2011 to 22.6 billion miles by 2019.
A staggering 18.7 billion miles were still driven in 2020, despite the Covid lockdowns.
Data from external providers shows that as the number of vehicle miles has increased, so too has the time lost by drivers to traffic.
TomTom data shows that in 2017 an average of 144 hours per year, per driver, were spent sitting in traffic - almost 20 minutes extra for a 30-minute trip during the evening rush hour.
In 2018, this increased to 147 hours, and in 2019, to 149 hours per year.
This equates to six days and five hours in total for an average London driver.
In 2020, traffic was reduced, but Londoners still spent an extra 15 minutes per 30 minute trip driving because of congestion – 115 hours per year.
INRIX data shows a similar trend, with 148 hours lost a year by drivers on average in 2021.
This is estimated to cost the economy £5.1bn a year, or £1,211 per driver based on an estimate of the average value of earnings that drivers could be making, or the leisure time they could be enjoying, if they were not stuck in traffic.
Active travel and public transport key to cutting congestion
Alex Williams, Transport for London’s (TfL) Director of City Planning, said: “Ensuring that people can walk, cycle and use public transport is vital to London’s successful recovery from the pandemic.
“A car led recovery will increase congestion and pollution, threatening London's economy and making the capital a less healthy and sustainable place for everyone.”
Williams said TfL would continue to work closely with local councils to ensure people can walk and cycle safely and easily.
Silviya Barrett, head of policy and research at Campaign for Better Transport, agreed that the key to tackling congestion has to be increasing the number of journeys made by active travel or public transport.
She said: “We hope London continues to lead the way in introducing innovative measures to tackle congestion and reduce car use.
“It is also vitally important that TfL has the sustainable funding deal it needs to keep investing in and promoting a return to public transport and active travel post-pandemic.”
TfL is currently in discussions with Government to come to an financial support arrangement to help support its future sustainability.
The Department for Transport (DfT) has already extended TfL's emergening funding support multiple times and the current deadline to come to an agreement is February 4.