Road rush as England unlocks – with London’s transport busier too

a double decker bus driving down a street (C) Provided by The Independent

Britain’s roads were busier on Monday, when England’s stay at home rule was eased, than on any other day since Christmas. The Independent has analysed figures from the Department for Transport (DfT) that show private motorists covered 78 per cent of the usual miles on 29 March compared with a typical pre-pandemic Monday in late March. The last time traffic reached that number was just before Christmas; the three days from 21 to 23 December hit the same percentage.

But with the late-notice cancellation of Christmas plans by the government, and the lockdown that took effect early in January, most days have seen rates of 50 to 60 per cent. Heavy goods vehicles were at 108 per cent of normal; they have been above average all month. Read more:

“Light commercial vehicles” – mainly delivery vans – reached 99 per cent of normal journeys. This was the highest since 19 December, when the figure was 103 per cent. Overall, traffic on Monday was 84 per cent of normal levels, again the highest since 19 December.

The DfT data is collected from 275 automated traffic count sites across Great Britain.  Jack Cousens, head of roads policy for the AA, said; “The growing levels of car traffic seem to be a mixture of various elements all coming to a head. “School traffic is back, lockdown rules have relaxed slightly, more people are having their vaccine and the boredom of staying at home are all playing a part in the return of busy roads.

“While we aren’t predicting the usual mass Easter getaway this year, it is clear that more people are venturing out further in their cars.” Public transport use continues to be low, with rail passenger numbers rising only slowly in the second half of March to 25 per cent of normal levels. Taxpayers are funding train operators to the tune of GBP1m per hour. 

But Transport for London‘s bus and Tube saw their highest passenger numbers of the year. Buses carried half the normal number of users for the first time since 28 December, while the Tube exceeded 25 per cent; the last time better than one in four passengers travelled by Underground was 19 December. Bus use outside London is proving highly variable, reaching 42 per cent on Monday – the lowest weekday figure for a fortnight.

The transport expert, Thomas Ableman, said the government’s messaging about Covid on public transport should be more positive. “Public transport has repeatedly been shown to be a low risk environment,” he said. “Unlike in, for example, a restaurant, people can wear face masks the entire time,  tend not to talk – talking has a big impact on viral load – and tend to overlap with other individuals for short periods of time.

“As people are permitted to travel again from 12 April, including going on holiday, the government needs to make it clear that this can be done by train, coach and bus – and not just by car.”

The first National Express coach journey for 11 weeks departed at one minute past midnight on Monday, from Manchester to London.