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Part 1: How is lockdown changing Londoners’ travel habits?

Empty tube stations, new cycle lanes, and bustling parks — what do Londoners make of this new world?

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Coronavirus has upended life in London. Nowhere is this more evident than on the capital’s tubes, buses and across the road network. Non-essential travel has been restricted. Passenger numbers and fare revenues have plummeted, while Transport for London (TfL) and London’s boroughs have been moving quickly to reallocate road space to cyclists and pedestrians.

But what do Londoners think? How will their experience of lockdown and feelings about the future change the way they move around the city? Do people want to get back onto buses and tubes or do they plan to spend more time working, socialising and shopping at home? Will we see a shift to increased walking and cycling or a surge in use of private cars and taxis?

Centre for London worked with Savanta ComRes to conduct a poll that explores how Londoners have changed their travel habits during lockdown, their expectations as we come out of it, as well as their views on measures to help with social distancing.

Here’s what we’ve found:

Public transport and taxi use has collapsed, as Londoners have turned to active travel

Unsurprisingly, seven in 10 London adults say they have been using the tube or rail (71 per cent) or the bus (68 per cent) less since the start of the coronavirus lockdown. But one in 10 Londoners have been using these modes of transport more (10 per cent tube/rail, 13 per cent bus). It is likely that some Londoners will have decided to travel by bus while new TfL rules effectively made them free.

48 per cent also report using taxis and ride-hailing less, whereas the same percentage say they are walking and/or running more than before lockdown. 

Londoners have been finding it difficult to keep socially distant from other people

Despite the big fall in passenger numbers, half of those who have used the tube or rail (52 per cent) or the bus (51 per cent) during lockdown said they have found it difficult to keep socially distant from other people. This suggests that Londoners will be slow to return to public transport, even if and when the authorities start to encourage them to do so.

Many Londoners have also found it hard to maintain physical distance when out and about. Two in five (42 per cent) London adults have said they find it difficult to keep socially distant from other people when on a high street, and a quarter have said the same for parks and residential streets (26 per cent for both). 

Most Londoners support making the wearing of face masks on public transport compulsory and the reallocation of road space to pedestrians and cyclists

Facemasks

73 per cent of Londoners support the compulsory use of facemasks on public transport. Making this happen is within the Mayor’s powers and this level of support gives him strong backing to do so immediately.

Pavement widening and new cycle lanes

Through its new Streetspace plan, TfL has been working with the boroughs to identify places where temporary changes can support social distancing or that would benefit from cycling and walking improvements. Many have been implemented already. 

Our polling found that the vast majority of London adults support the temporary widening of pavements (69 per cent), and the provision of new cycle lanes or wider existing cycle lanes (64 per cent) to aid social distancing. The majority also support making these changes permanent (56 per cent for widening of pavements and 57 per cent for new cycle lanes and widening existing lanes). Those living in inner London are more likely than those in outer London to support permanent provision of new/wider cycle lanes (61 per cent vs. 54 per cent).

Half of Londoners say they will use the tube or rail less than they did before the crisis

We also asked Londoners how they anticipate their travel habits would change compared with their pre-crisis usage under three scenarios: if lockdown were completely over in three months, six months or one year.

In the most optimistic scenario, where all measures are lifted within three months, 49 per cent of London adults who offer an opinion say their tube use will be lower than before the crisis (though 14 per cent believe their usage will be higher than before). There is a similar expectation for taxis and ride-hailing (48 per cent say usage will be lower) and buses (44 per cent).

A third of Londoners say they will walk and cycle more…

These anticipated drops in public transport use and ride sharing have to be met with corresponding rises in other modes, or less travelling, perhaps as people work more from home.

A third of respondents who offer an opinion say they will cycle more once lockdown is over. Unlike in the case of the tube/rail, buses and taxis, the proportion is the same across the three scenarios (34-36 per cent).

Meanwhile half (46 per cent) of those surveyed say they think they will be more likely to go for a walk, run or cycle ride in the future, compared to before the crisis. This is particularly marked in inner London (51 per cent).

…while a third say they will use their cars more.

In an almost exact mirror of cycling, around a third of those offering an opinion say they will use cars more, again without any real variation by length of lockdown.

This presents a difficult challenge for TfL and the boroughs, as not only do cars contribute to poor air quality and carbon emissions, but they also take up valuable road space needed to accommodate increased cycling and walking.

This crisis is upending much of what we knew and assumed about Londoners and transport. We humans are not good at predicting our future behaviour: just look at how many of us take out gym membership but fail to use the gym. However if our poll respondents are even halfway accurately assessing their future transport choices, London is facing an enormous challenge. It could be a long time before travelling by the tube or bus becomes part of daily life once more. And without bold thinking, London could be heading for a new era of gridlock on our roads.

Note: Savanta ComRes interviewed 1,068 London residents online between 15 and 19  May 2020. Data is representative of all London residents by age, gender and region.

Rob Whitehead is Director of Strategic Projects at Centre for London. Follow him on Twitter.

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