So what does the National Travel Survey tell us?

The Department for Transport have published the National Travel Survey 2013 and there are some very interesting facts in there. You can find it here:

But first, trends!

Over the last 40 years the average total distance we travel in a year has significantly increased although average trip times are only slightly longer – but the actual number of trips has fallen.  But if we take it back to the last 20 years only then we see that average trip time and trip length has increased while total annual distance has dropped.

One stat I always find interesting is length of journey: 18% <1 mile, 67% <5 miles, 95% <25 miles

This illustrates the opportunities there are to improve and change travel patterns and behaviours for short journeys – opportunities to promote active travel and also shared travel modes.  A particular focus should be on car sharing, bike hire, walking and cycling, car clubs – a focus on access rather than ownership being the most important factor (more on that below) as well as clearer and better information designed to nudge people into using more efficient modes of transport.

Interestingly the drop in number of journeys taken over the last 20 years has been at the expense of the car and walking. 89% of journeys are taken by private transport (which is cars and equivalent plus active modes e.g. walking and cycling) but actual trips by private transport have dropped by 18% in the last 20 years, which is quite a drop indeed!

Public transport has seen growth in terms of overall share (from 9 to 11% in last 20 years) as well as a 6% increase in journeys over the same period. It should be noted that a lot of that growth has come from the upsurge in London’s buses (with their differential governance regime, regulated by TfL, and huge investment) in stark contrast to the ongoing decline in bus use nationally where the deregulated market still fails to match the London experience.

I found one chart absolutely striking showing the connection between income and travel opportunity:

The top quintile for real household income travels: 7755 miles per person per year by car, 179 by bus, 1427 by train and 719 by other means – a total 10,080 miles per person per year.

The lowest quintile travels: 2742 by car, 524 by bus, 391 by train and 396 by other – a total of 4,053 miles per person per year.

That strikes me as a major issue and one that is reinforcing existing wider policy issues around employment, skills and health in particular.

Connected to this is households with a car: total is 81% but that then splits to 85% in the highest income quintile compared to 52% in the lowest.

So going back to my earlier point, I would like to see a huge push in developing the concept of mobility and access to mobility.  More focus on enabling people to make their journeys and reducing the barriers to travel, especially when there is such a striking correlation with wealth.  Deploying smarter infrastructure and information to make our transport systems easier to use, easier to make better decisions that enable a more efficient use of transport networks.  In addition that focus on access rather than ownership, encouraging sharing and hiring as models for providing access and also affordability.

There is a lot to digest in this statistical release from the DfT but there are plenty of opportunities to make serious reforms and improvements that could generate vast benefits for everyone!

2 thoughts on “So what does the National Travel Survey tell us?

  1. Interesting….

    Thanks for the analysis Alex.

    Also noticeable from the graphs, as previously, is that the negative growth in car trips shows little or no relation, as some had presumed, to economic growth trends.

    In fact you could draw a curve showing a consistent and growing decline since the graph’s origin, perhaps accelerating after 2004/2005, not 2007/2008, and with no ‘recovery’ evident.

    It was suggested in the House of Commons enquiry on Road Building that this trend had more to do with planning rules for parking influencing trips that economic activity (there is, however, perhaps an influence reflected in the number of commuting trips at the start of the last recession).

    However, another statistic that is striking is that commuting represents only 16% of trips.

    Also interesting, for me, is the deflection point when distance travelled by cycling started an increase in about 2004 – actually reversing a trend and therefore rising much more from that bottomed-out level than the 8% stated from 1997. Very roughly by about 30-35%.

    Perhaps this all means the economy is a factor but by no means the most significant one on these statistics.

    1. Thank you Tim!

      I think you are absolutely right about the impact (or not) of the downturn in the economy on travel demand. I think there is an awful lot that can be drawn out of these stats – over the coming days we will all find even more interesting stuff that can (perhaps in tandem with other evidence) produce some fascinating analysis!

      Hope you are keeping well?!

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