Traffic jams lessen as fuel rises and recession see drivers switch to cycling and walking

DfT data reveal that congestion down by almost a fifth on 100 key routes in UK

by Simon_MacMichael   March 28, 2011  

Petrol Station copyright Simon MacMichael .jpg

New figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) have revealed that traffic congestion has fallen by almost a fifth on major roads as a result of the recession and the rising price of fuel. A separate study has shown a drop of 50 per cent in traffic volumes on one stretch of motorway. The RAC believes that many drivers are taking measures including switching to cycling and walking to save money.

The DfT monitored 100 of Britain’s major roads and found that from a height of 4 minutes 19 seconds per 10 miles driven in July 2007, congestion had fallen to 3 minutes 49 seconds by January 2011, reports the Daily Mail, which adds that this represents the first time that congestion has fallen since the international oil crisis in the late 1970s.

According to Roads Minister Mike Penning, “The falls in traffic volume over the last two years are likely to be linked to the wider economic situation but we recognise that it’s a tough time for motorists as we tackle the country’s record budget deficit.”

A separate report by Trafficmaster, which provides data regarding traffic jams to satnav systems using speed sensors deployed on key routes, found that the number of delays in February 2011 was 52% down on a year earlier on a stretch of the M1 between Leicester and Sheffield.

Trafficmaster data manager Graham Smith commented: “The simple explanation is that there are now fewer vehicles on the roads. There is considerably less commercial traffic and in some cases people are finding other ways to get to work.”

He continued: “People are also cutting down on leisure trips or driving to the shops. The cost of fuel is a major factor in people’s decisions about making journeys these days.”

The Daily Mail added that cities such as Leeds have seen a fall in the amount of traffic in the centre, and that there was a 500,000 drop in the number of drivers paying the Central London Congestion Charge between 2009 and 2010, despite the cost remaining unchanged.

With the average price of a litre of unleaded petrol hitting 133.17p earlier in March, sales of fuel are likely to continue to drop, despite the 1p cut in fuel duty announced in last week’s budget.

In the three months to January 2011, petrol sales dropped by 4.1 per cent against the comparable period a year earlier, according to the Office for National Statistics. The three months to December 2010 saw a year-on-year fall of 9.5 per cent.

According to Adrian Tink, a motoring strategist at the RAC, people are switching to two wheels or two legs to help beat the impact of the rise in motoring costs.

“We are seeing record numbers of people walking and biking,” he explained. “Evidence from the last couple of quarters is that the sale of petrol is dropping.

“A lot of people are combining journeys, making shorter ones and looking at alternatives like the train,” he continued.

Mr Tink added that the impact of improved roads plus poor weather deterring people from driving had also been behind the reduction in traffic.
 

15 user comments

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Interesting, and in the Daily Hate too.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2233 posts]
28th March 2011 - 8:52

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Headline says cyling

posted by a.jumper [710 posts]
28th March 2011 - 8:58

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'cyling' is what Cylons do on a bike.

As anyone who followed the Battle Star Gallactica series remake knows, this means that they are amongst us and we can all look forward to be wiped out in a barrage of nuclear attacks.

Don't say you weren't warned.

alotronic's picture

posted by alotronic [275 posts]
28th March 2011 - 9:45

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The Mail must have been so conflicted.

Cyclists = bad

Motorists = good

More cyclists = good for motorists

Does not compute, does not compute... sparks, small explosion, smoke.

abudhabiChris's picture

posted by abudhabiChris [539 posts]
28th March 2011 - 9:48

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a.jumper - corrected now, thanks

alotoronic - I thought it was the lizard visitors in the remake of V that were going to do for us?

Maybe we should do a tinfoil hat review Thinking

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8236 posts]
28th March 2011 - 10:24

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The increasing scarcity of oil has been, until a couple of weeks ago, the only real cause contributing to this recession. Everything else was just the result of greed, stupidity and mismanagement, by bankers, governments and mortgage-borrowers. Of course, the developed world has now experienced real physical disaster, in the shape of the Japanese and New Zealand earthquakes, but whether that has as much effect worldwide as a few hundred bankers in New York and London in 2007 playing pass-the-parcel with bad debts, remains to be seen. At any rate, the money is still out there, somewhere. Perhaps when those that are currently holding on to it realise that things have got so bad that radically fewer people are driving to their offices and retail outlets, to give them their time and money, they will release some cash back in to the system. Either that or they'll hold on a bit longer, until the likes of Cameron give them, say, the roads instead of the forests, then they'll be able to rake even more money when the boom times do eventually return. Or they'll invest in China and leave the UK to rot. Anyway, much as I'd like to think it is the start of a cycling revolution, I doubt it. Small and/or local gains maybe, but on balance probably people staying home and sitting on their fat arses is more likely to be a bigger factor in reduced congestion.

posted by handlebarcam [529 posts]
28th March 2011 - 10:45

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abudhabiChris wrote:
Does not compute, does not compute... sparks, small explosion, smoke.

I thought that was TruthBot 2000.

posted by handlebarcam [529 posts]
28th March 2011 - 11:02

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Bear in mind that we had a tough winter and a lot of people didn't drive much, I know I didn't and the family car remained parked for even longer periods than usual. Road conditions have not improved, despite what the DfT claims, as the number of potholes has increased.

The increased cost of oil has rather a lot to do with what's happening across North Africa and the Middle East at present. Yes, the oil will run out but there is still quite a lot of it. But the easy to drill oil has mostly been tapped. The money the bankers were passing around was largely an illusion, that's why we had a banking collapse.

OldRidgeback

posted by OldRidgeback [2233 posts]
28th March 2011 - 11:39

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is the money out there though handlebarcam?

Lots of it has been pumped in to the system but as far as I can understand banks are being forced to hold on to it as security against the bad debts they may or may not hold and also because the ratio of assets to loans they are allowed to make has been dramatically reduced - so they can't rack up a load more bad debts cos it turns out that lots of banks aren't actually very good at performing the basic functions of being a bank loaning out depositor's money at reasonable rate of return because they are way to clever for anything so boring.

This financial system is broken and it isn't going to get mended any time soon by the looks of it.

Fuel is likely to remain expensive and the longer it does so the more changes in behaviour we are going to see when it comes to travel and the longer the situation persists the more change we will see and the more engrained those new behaviours will become.

But then maybe that's just me, when it comes to world financial meltdown I'm a glass half full kind of guy Smile

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4147 posts]
28th March 2011 - 11:40

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as long as the interweb still works that is

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4147 posts]
28th March 2011 - 11:43

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Quote:
“A lot of people are combining journeys, making shorter ones and looking at alternatives like the train,”

I don't see many multi-occupant cars around Shrewsbury yet, though queues do (subjectively) seem shorter than they were. Combining journeys? I thought only environmentally aware people did that. Everyone else jumps in the car without thinking... then moans about the cost. The cost of car use seems to be a total blind spot for most people.

However, until cycling becomes more attractive then most people won't bother. I think there are two big problems to overcome:
- many people see riding on the roads as dangerous. TBH I can't blame them, too many drivers are shockingly poor and dedicated facilities are pathetic. Using statistics will never overcome fear.
- cycling is still considered to be for those who can't afford a car. That's one reason why we get abuse etc - it's a status thing.

Train travel is too expensive to be an alternative. We considered going by train to see my parents in Bangor before Christmas. Driving 2 hours each way, costs <£25 in fuel. A return ticket for Mrs E, the 2 kids and me was £117. We'd have to get to/from the station at each end as well. Similarly, popping to Ludlow (40 mins by car) is £35 + a king's ransom to get into town on the bus. So we don't go anywhere on the train nowadays Sad

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1998 posts]
28th March 2011 - 12:42

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Will it last? Or will the price come back down for a while, or people just grit their teeth and bear it?

Cycle commuting in London has doubled in the last ten years, mainly away from public transport, and while there has been some continuous stimulus, key events are a big factor - public transport strikes and 7/7. Each time, a lot of people have dragged an old bike from the back of the shed, just for a few days. Some of those have thought "hey, what have I been missing? Not sniffing the next strap-hanger's armpit, or having some perve try to look up my skirt?" They have stuck with it.

Perhaps some people will conclude that after all, you don't have to hop in the car to go down the 7-11 for pint of milk? Perhaps a many as a quarter of all car journeys are for reasons as trivial as that!

posted by Paul M [315 posts]
28th March 2011 - 13:06

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Simon E wrote:
Quote:
“A lot of people are combining journeys, making shorter ones and looking at alternatives like the train,”

I don't see many multi-occupant cars around Shrewsbury yet, though queues do (subjectively) seem shorter than they were. Combining journeys? I thought only environmentally aware people did that. Everyone else jumps in the car without thinking... then moans about the cost. The cost of car use seems to be a total blind spot for most people.

I've seen consumer research elsewhere that suggest that many people, instead of say taking the kids to weekend sports, going home, then going back out to do the weekly shop, are doing both on one trip instead of two.

There's plenty of stuff in the mainstream media about how the cost of running a car is hurting many motorists at the moment and how they are dealing with that.

What will be interesting is if interest rates start to go upwards, they can't be held at current levels forever. Once that happens, many households are going to have to make some very tough choices.

Simon_MacMichael's picture

posted by Simon_MacMichael [8236 posts]
28th March 2011 - 13:15

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Simon_MacMichael wrote:
There's plenty of stuff in the mainstream media about how the cost of running a car is hurting many motorists at the moment and how they are dealing with that.

But is this a lazy journo 'interviewing' a couple of colleagues at the water-cooler or based on hard facts? And we all know that many print journalists easily confuse news with cut'n'paste from a Press Release.

Still, if it's genuinely true then there is some reason for hope... Perhaps rampant consumerism is on the wane and people will think harder about what they spend money on - quality, not quantity. I'd like to think we'd waste less on cheap crap and buy stuff that lasts, but I'm not holding my breath.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [1998 posts]
28th March 2011 - 14:26

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Simon E wrote:
Perhaps rampant consumerism is on the wane and people will think harder about what they spend money on - quality, not quantity. I'd like to think we'd waste less on cheap crap and buy stuff that lasts, but I'm not holding my breath.

I think, even when/if the private motorcar becomes extinct, it will take a least another 50 years for the human race to reverse the effects that invention has had on its morals, ambitions, character and aesthetics over the last 100 years.

posted by handlebarcam [529 posts]
28th March 2011 - 14:37

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