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Warning of car-led recovery threat to carbon targets

Words: Huw Morris
Cars traffic jam

The UK is standing on the precipice of a car-led recovery from Covid-19 that will scupper any chance of meeting carbon emission targets.

The warning by Andy Bagnall, chief strategy officer for the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), comes as latest Department for Transport data reveals car-use is outstripping other forms of transport, with the return of the morning rush hour and traffic back to January’s levels.

Between September 7-13, the number of cars and lorries on the road was almost back to normal with an average of 96 per cent of pre-pandemic traffic levels and exceeding them at weekends. The number of passengers using trains and buses was 39 per cent and 57 per cent respectively, well below pre-pandemic levels.

“The data is clear and should raise alarm bells, the country stands on the precipice of a car-led recovery from Covid-19 that risks dealing a knockout blow to the nation’s target of reaching net zero carbon emissions by 2050,” Bagnall told a fringe event at the virtual Labour Party conference. “Rebuilding the fares system and making ticketing simpler is essential to get people out of traffic jams and onto cleaner, greener trains. We want to work with government to make this a reality.”

His warning was backed by RAC Insurance, which said that data from drivers with black box devices show between September 7-16, the same number of cars were on roads as on a weekday in January. “Alarmingly, the figures appear to show that the UK’s morning rush hour is caused more by people dropping children off at schools and nurseries than it is by commuters heading to places of work, given that many people are still working from home,” it added. RAC Insurance spokesperson Rod Dennis said the size of the increase indicates the school run is contributing far more to the 8-9am rush hour window than commuters, with Office for National Statistics data indicating that between a fifth and a third of the UK workforce work remotely.

“What’s abundantly apparent is how dependent parents are on the car for getting children to their places of study or play during the week – and with fewer people prepared to take public transport at the moment, the reliance on the car as the transport mode of choice has increased,” he added.

“Workers that used to drop children off and then carry on to offices or other workplaces are clearly still using their cars for these trips, but just returning home again instead. “It may also be the case that many are opting for the car so they can be back at their desks to start work as promptly as possible.”