Going places: a 10-lane section of the Coventry ring road
Going places: a 10-lane section of the Coventry ring road

Road traffic returns to pre-pandemic levels – but rail use well below half

The last time 100 per cent of vehicle use was recorded was late September 2020

Simon Calder
Travel Correspondent
Wednesday 05 May 2021 10:57

Road traffic has returned to pre-pandemic levels, at least at weekends.

Figures just released by the Department for Transport show that on two days out of the past 10, vehicle use is back at 100 per cent of the levels that prevailed before the Covid crisis began.

The figure was reached on Sunday 25 April and Saturday 1 May. The last time 100 per cent was achieved was seven months earlier, on Sunday 27 September 2020.

On working days between Monday 26 and Friday 30 April, the average was 93 per cent.

The contrast with rail is stark. Train use is slowly recovering from a 10-week spell from late December to early March in which the number of passengers remained below 20 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

But during the most recent week for which data is regarded as reliable, from 20 to 26 April, the average usage was just 41.5 per cent of “normal” demand.

London Tube use remains at about 40 per cent, though bus use regularly reaches 60 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Outside the capital, bus use averages 60 per cent.

The transport expert Thomas Ableman said: “In the year Britain hosts COP26, it risks being a national embarrassment that we’ve achieved the highest car mode share in history.

“Buried on the government website is the official advice that it’s fine to use public transport for any journey that you would drive. But the numbers tell us that this isn’t what is being heard.

“At the moment, pubs are permitted to proactively advertise but train companies are not.”

The government urges travellers to “minimise the number of journeys you make where possible”.

It says: “If you do need to travel it is best to walk or cycle if you can. If not, use public transport or drive.”

The transport secretary, Grant Shapps, tweeted: “There are now over 500,000 ultra-low-emission vehicles on our roads .

“This is great news and a real milestone as we strive to #BuildBackGreener and establish the UK as a front runner of the electric vehicle revolution.”

The only form of transport that regularly and dramatically exceeds pre-pandemic scores is cycling.

Over the weekend of 24-25 April the average was above 150 per cent. But the activity is highly weather dependent; within two days it had dropped to 82 per cent.

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