35% of UK drivers – equivalent of 14.7m people – say they are more dependent on using their car than 12 months ago, with public transport seen as an expensive and unreliable alternative.
That’s according to data released as part of the latest RAC Report on Motoring, which show a further rise in the proportion of drivers who say they rely on their cars as their main mode of transport – increased dependency is up from 33% in 2018, and from 27% a year earlier, and is now at its highest proportion in the past seven years.
Just 14% of drivers (the equivalent of around 5.9m people) say they have become less dependent than a year ago, though this has also increased from 12% in 2018 indicating a small rise in those saying they are less dependent on their vehicles.
At a time when the Government and local councils are keen for drivers to use their cars less frequently to improve air quality and cut congestion, the RAC says it believes the findings are a stark reminder of the reality for many people, especially those who live outside the biggest cities – that for good or bad, millions of people remain enormously dependent on their cars for many types of journeys.
The top reasons drivers give for using their cars more are a greater need to transport family members (28%), family and friends moving further away (24%) and, perhaps most strikingly, a reduction in the provision or quality of public transport (25%) – with drivers in the North East (42%) significantly more likely to call this out as a reason for them increasingly turning to the car.
Drivers are particularly frustrated by the lack of feasible alternatives to the car for the journeys they need to make, according to the data. Most – 57%, the equivalent of almost 23.9m people – say they would be willing to use their cars less if the quality of public transport was better, and agreement with this statement has been high for an incredible 11 consecutive years. Around half of drivers (53%) say they are frustrated by the lack of feasible alternative modes of transport for long journeys, with a similar proportion (52%) saying the same about short journeys. These figures both rise to 55% for drivers aged between 25 and 44.
Among drivers who would be willing to use public transport more, half (50%) say the reason they don’t use public transport more is that fares are too high – up by five percentage points on last year – while 41% say services are not frequent enough. Meanwhile, a growing number of people (36% – up from 31% in 2018) say that a lack of punctuality is a significant barrier to them using public transport as an alternative to driving, and 38% say services don’t run where they need them to.
Of those who would be willing to consider using public transport if services were better, almost a third (31%) say they would make more use of it if there was greater availability of services – a figure that rises to 40% for rural motorists, reflecting to some extent the significant cuts that were made to rail services following the Beeching Report and, more recently, to rural bus services as highlighted last year by the Parliamentary Transport Committee.
The RAC’s findings also show that motorists who live in London are more likely to use alternatives to their cars compared to drivers elsewhere in the UK. In the capital, on average 38% of each driver’s weekly journeys are made either by public transport, walking or cycling, compared with a national average of just 24%.
For those who live in villages or other rural areas, cars typically account for an enormous 85% of all journeys, with just 15% currently represented by public transport, cycling or walking.
Across the UK as a whole, an overwhelming majority of motorists (73%) say they would find it very difficult to adjust to life without a car – with more than half (54%) of this group stating this is because their vehicle is essential for carrying heavy items. Given the capital’s more comprehensive public transport system, a smaller proportion of drivers in London (58%) say they would struggle to adjust without a car – compared to 84% of motorists who live in villages and rural communities.