Pandemic makes car access ‘more important than ever’

12.33 | 10 November 2020 | | 4 comments

More than half of UK drivers say having access to a car is more important than it was before Covid-19, with reluctance to use public transport in the future at its highest level in 18 years.

That’s according to the findings of a survey carried out by the RAC for its annual Report on Motoring.

In total, 57% of respondents say they need a car more now than they did before March 2020 – a figure which rises to approximately two-thirds among three specific groups: young drivers, those with fewer than 10 years’ experience and people living in the Capital.

When it comes to needing to use a car for work, a majority (64%) still expect to drive to offices or other places of work in the future, a figure which is almost unchanged on the 67% who said they did so before the pandemic. 

A little over a third of drivers (36%) said they expect to work from home more frequently in the future as a result of the coronavirus.

Despite the rise in home deliveries, nearly seven-in-10 respondents (68%) say a car is essential for tasks like shopping, up from 54% last year – perhaps partly driven by the rise in click-and-collect services and people carrying out fewer, larger grocery shops than before the lockdown.

Meanwhile, six-in-10 drivers (59%) say the car is essential for meeting up with friends and family who live elsewhere in the country, significantly up from 45% in 2019.

The research also shows the scale of the challenge to encourage drivers to switch from their vehicles to public transport for some trips even in a post-pandemic scenario. 

For the first time since 2002 fewer than half of drivers (43%) say they would use their cars less frequently, even if public transport was improved – down sharply from 57% in 2019. 

The RAC says taken at face value, the declining appeal of public transport seemingly represents a seismic shift compared to recent years, and suggests drivers are more wedded to their cars than they have been for a long time. 

It also reflects ongoing safety concerns of using potentially crowded public transport systems, according to the RAC.

Rod Dennis, RAC data insight spokesperson, said: “Even with lower traffic volumes, the pandemic appears to have reinforced the bond between drivers and their cars – with public transport less attractive than ever. 

“Motorists see having access to a car as being even more important for the trips they need to make, be that shopping for essentials or getting out to see family and friends in other parts of the country when restrictions allow.

“Without a concerted effort from government and local councils, the pandemic risks putting efforts to encourage drivers out of their cars for some trips back by years. 

“Even before the coronavirus, drivers complained that public transport fares were often too high and services didn’t run when they needed them to. 

“Now, for the first time since 2002, we have fewer drivers than ever saying they’re prepared to use public transport even if services improved – underlining just what a huge role the car continues to play in 2020.”



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    Of course they are. People want to feel safe by avoiding being stuck in close proximity with others as is inevitable when using public transport. A mask reduces risk but is not virus proof and a lot of people don’t follow the rules. Despite the masses of tax payer money thrown into making more barely used cycle lanes people live too far away to cycle, or it isn’t practical if you are going to do the family shop. You can’t expect people to ride a bike for several hours on the way to and from the work place, arrive in mucky clothes in a sweat, assuming they can ride a bicycle to start with. A lot more thought is needed by Govt. before committing to schemes that are going to fail.

    Peter Hill, Durham
    Agree (0) | Disagree (0)


    The report surveyed 3,000 motorists. And 32% of them did not say that their cars were essential. That is a huge opportunity for society to make them feel more comfortable with using alternative ways of getting around.

    I don’t detect active travel activists being generally anti-car. I find them to be pro-car but also recognising the dis-benefits of car use as well as the benefits. This is not a polarised position and calling out active travel advocates as extreme is in itself a statement that polarises debate.

    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (0) | Disagree (27)

    I agree with Rod that feet are essential, and that bikes are perhaps less essential than feet. But there is the survey data saying 68% of people think cars are essential as well. Active travel (what we previously called walking & cycling but politicians needed a fancy new name) policy needs to recognise that car dependency is here to stay (for the next couple of decades at least) whatever the AT campaigners aspirations may be.

    If AT policy stopped being so over-the-top in its anti-car attitude and started working out a more pragmatic relationship with the “essential car” they may make better progress. AT policy expects car owners to change their attitude and behaviour, however it is also time AT changed its attitude to cars to one with a less extreme position. Polarised positions on both sides of the argument produce deadlock, not progress.

    Pat, Wales
    Agree (3) | Disagree (2)

    You could say this about almost any mode of transport. If you were to survey cyclists I am sure that more than 57% would say that having access to a cycle is more important than ever. And also maybe 100% of walkers would say that their feet are more important than ever.

    Rod King, Lymm
    Agree (1) | Disagree (41)

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