Giving you the ‘inside track’ into transport trends

Transport data
Tom Ellerton

It’s no exaggeration to say that the pandemic obliterated transport trends in 2020 and 2021. The way we travelled, and indeed our ability to travel, was turned upside down over night in one of the most significant peace-time shocks to our society. Since this point, much transport analysis has focused on how we have recovered from the lows of the pandemic, whether we have reached a ‘new normal’, or whether the recovery is indeed still taking place.  

However, whilst it is important to measure the post-pandemic progress, this only tells part of the picture. It is just as important to look at how recent changes fit within longer patterns, and so it’s the right time to revisit those long-term trends. Our new report, Inside track - The state of transport 2024, is our first look back at trends over the last decade since before the pandemic.  

And the longer run trends can tell a different story, or add more context to the post-pandemic trends and what they mean. For example, whether a mode was experiencing growth or decline before the pandemic can have a significant impact on what we read into the recovery. This can add context to how we understand the strong recovery of light rail (but fail to account for the additional trips that have been lost) or the slower recovery of the bus (which may have continued the previous trend and lost more trips anyway).  

A major trend that stands out is the change to the commute, a staple of public transport patronage. The pandemic massively accelerated working from home, with the average number of days in the office falling from close to four days a week to almost two – the difference between eight and four commuting trips a week.  

This has a significant impact on our demand for travel, but also how we choose to travel. The reduction in weekly trips has seen a movement away from the season ticket and towards single and return products – with rail season ticket journeys falling by 66% since 2019. Without a season ticket, we are not locked into the free trips of a single mode and have the freedom to choose between different modes depending on what trip we are making. This makes our travel patterns less predictable. It is important to remember that not all jobs can be done from home, with many jobs remaining office based. But with the average person now making 80 less commuting trips per year, this clearly has a significant impact on our mobility patterns.  

As a statistician, I know only too well that transport stats can get granular, which is often necessary depending on the desired outcome. But what we have attempted to achieve with Inside track, is to present an overarching view of our current transport landscape, across different modes but with accompanying economic, population and devolution trends to provide a richer context. Ultimately, it’s the stats that do the talking. They tell the story: which is one of public transport in England being in a rather precarious position. 

Now is the time, arguably more than ever, to ensure that financial support for public transport is adequate, sustainable and long term - truly recognising the economic, social and environmental benefits that transport delivers to our communities and local areas.  

Tom Ellerton is Technical Manager at the Urban Transport Group

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Inside track - The state of transport 2024

This report aims to give readers the ‘inside track’ into transport trends over the last decade – to not only show what they are, but to also explain why they are happening and what they might mean for cities and transport within them.
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