Written evidence submitted by RAC Motoring Services
About the RAC
The RAC provides complete peace of mind to 12 million UK private and business drivers, whatever their motoring needs. We provide breakdown assistance, with a 1,600-strong branded patrol workforce attending more than two million breakdowns every year, fixing on average four out of five vehicles at the roadside.
Additional products include insurance, a used car buying website, vehicle inspections and checks, legal services or up-to-the-minute traffic and travel information.
The RAC also works to support the interests of its members and UK drivers on the most important motoring issues which it identifies via the annual RAC Report on Motoring and the RAC Opinion Panel. The Report on Motoring is the longest running analysis of driver opinion in the UK having been published every year since 1989. The 2019 RAC Report on Motoring can be found here. The RAC website can be found at www.rac.co.uk.
The RAC is responding to this call for evidence based upon our own research of current and future travel trends. Our data is based upon car journey volumes and research of how drivers are looking at other modes.
- The use of public transport and the way that people choose to travel, both locally and for longer domestic journeys;
Current Department for Transport data suggests that traffic levels are at around 85%-95% of pre-lockdown levels, with weekend car traffic levels by the end of July at 100% of normal levels. This has been steadily increasing week-on-week since the Government started lifting lockdown restrictions. However, public transport use has grown more modestly with the latest data suggesting national rail use is only 25-30% of pre-lockdown levels, while in London use of the tube is also at 30-35% of pre-lockdown levels, with bus use higher at about 50-60%. Cycling journeys, however, remain higher than pre-lockdown levels, though it is unclear from these statistics whether these are simply increased numbers of leisure journeys or whether they are replacing other modes. Government data from the National Travel Survey 2019 indicates that under normal circumstances last year, the car remains the dominant form of travel, with 61% of all trips made by car, covering 77% of all distances travelled. There are currently 41m licence holders in the UK which has continued to grow steadily since 2002. Bus and train journeys represent 7% of all trips made, covering 14% of all distances travelled. Given the dominance of car use and the ability of individuals to access a vehicle, coupled with the steady growth of vehicle use since lockdown measures were relaxed and the perception of a vehicle being a safe way to travel, we anticipate that car use will remain extremely important even as the UK emerges from the COVID-19 pandemic.
RAC Breakdown data suggests that rather than having peak breakdown periods in the mornings and late afternoons, demand for our service has become much more spread out across the day and the week. This indicates that travel trends have shifted and may be an indication of future demand, both for car use and public transport, at least in the short to mid-term.
In terms of car use, at the end of July 2020 RAC telematics data suggests that 70% of vehicles with an RAC Insurance black box installed were active on the roads, compared to 32% when the nationwide lockdown was imposed.
From a user point of view, findings from the 2019 RAC Report on Motoring suggest that prior to the coronavirus pandemic, car dependency was on the rise. More than a third (35%) of drivers said they were more dependent on their vehicle compared to 2018, with only 14% saying they were less dependent. Nearly two-thirds said they use a car as the primary method to commute to work, with 9% saying they primarily use a bus and 7% saying the train. The research also found that 57% of drivers would use their vehicles less if public transport was better. The principal reason why drivers are not using public transport more is because fares are too high (50%). Forty-one per cent said that public transport services do not run often enough or do not go to where they need them to, with complaints about delays and overcrowding also prevalent. In effect, the results demonstrate that public transport services are neither practical nor represent good value for money for drivers to switch modes.
We believe that this data suggests the following:
- Cars remain a valuable and important way for people to go about their lives – particularly for leisure purposes presently.
- With many still working from home, it is too soon to understand the long-term implications on public transport use, though if flexible working becomes more prevalent, it may reduce car dependency and public transport use in the future. The usual morning and evening rush hour may become less pronounced as employers manage workplaces with social distancing in the short to mid-term. In the longer term, employers may offer greater working hours flexibility as the norm.
- Even if we were to return to a scenario very similar to pre-COVID-19, the fundamentals remain that public transport is seen as too expensive and impractical for the majority of drivers to switch. Drivers are open to using public transport, but this will require investment from Government to bring it up to a standard which they see is fit for purpose.
- Central and local governmental transport priorities and finances and funding for transport;
Below is a list of priorities for local and national Government in relation to road transport:
Local road conditions
The RAC agrees with the Transport Committee’s recommendations for long-term ringfenced funding for our local roads. We believe this could be financed by ring-fencing 2ppl from existing fuel duty revenue which would raise £4.7bn worth of funding over a five-year period. This ring-fenced amount in addition to current pothole funds over a five-year period would give local highways authorities the ability to plan routine maintenance rather than simply reactive maintenance which is sometimes done to a sub-level standard (often a short-term ‘patch and dash’ approach as opposed to more permanent fixes). We believe that this would also improve safety on our roads for those using motorbikes and bicycles.
The RAC believes that the roads fund (currently in Road Investment Strategy period 2) is vital to maintain and increase capacity on our strategic road network. With both RAC and Government data confirming road traffic levels have steadily increased over the summer, it is important that we use the funds to not only maintain the network, but to improve safety, increase capacity and future-proof it for technological advances (such as for electric and autonomous vehicles). Highways England’s Road Investment Strategy 2 also contains plans to reduce emissions across the network.
Safe active travel schemes
The RAC supports the increased use of park and ride facilities in urban areas to reduce urban traffic. However, with e-scooter trials currently taking place and electric bikes becoming more popular, urban planners should take advantage of new ways to expand traditional park and ride schemes, installing ‘park and scoot’ or ‘park and cycle’ facilities and invest in the infrastructure to make routes into city centres safer for users. RAC Opinion Panel research from April 2020 shows that 11% of drivers would be prepared to use ‘park and scoot’ / ‘park and cycle’ facilities, with 59% more also prepared to ‘park and walk’.
Zero emission bus travel and frequency of services
As the Report on Motoring data highlights, drivers are open to alternatives, so we would encourage investment in electric buses particularly in and around urban areas. The Government should also explore the possibility of phasing out older, more polluting buses as quickly as practically possible.
The devolution of transport policy-making responsibilities and powers
Clearly, local authorities and city mayors (where they have the relevant powers) are best placed to decide priorities for local transport, however it is important that, where possible, these powers fit within a nationally consistent standard. For example, the decision to introduce a Clean Air Zone is decided by local authorities but standards of how a CAZ should operate are set by Defra to create a nationally consistent approach which is not confusing for drivers.
The resilience of the transport system for future crises
The RAC can only comment on the road network, which has remained robust during the COVID-19 pandemic and was (and continues to be) essential for key workers being able to continue doing their jobs where public transport alternatives were unviable.
The decarbonisation of transport and the capability to meet net zero carbon emissions targets by 2050
From a car use perspective, we support measures to increase the take-up of zero emission vehicles and urge the Government to look at measures to stimulate demand. Upfront costs and access to charging remain barriers to further take-up so we would encourage the following:
- Retain the plug-in car grant scheme to incentivise take-up until such a time where the upfront cost of an electric vehicle is comparable to a similarly sized conventional vehicle. Local measures such as lower parking tariffs and priority road access, use of bus lanes may also be beneficial in the short-term though such schemes would need to be carefully managed to ensure that they do not become victims of their own success. While cutting VAT on zero-emission vehicles might seem like a straightforward solution, by doing so it is likely to favour those that can afford high-end electric vehicles, when it is mass take-up of such vehicles that remains the most significant challenge.
- Invest in a high-quality electric vehicle charging infrastructure. This should include ultra-rapid charge points on the strategic road network on-street charging locally to take into account that many do not have access to off-street parking, and requirements for charging points in car parks.
Innovation and technological reform within transport
Autonomous vehicle technology will change the way we use vehicles, but the RAC cautions that our research suggests that many drivers presently do not see themselves using an autonomous vehicle, with trust in the technology the primary reason for a generally underwhelming view of such vehicles. The Committee may be interested to know that further research on the subject was published in 2019 by the RAC Foundation.