Trends in Modal Shift15 Jul 2007

Die Hard Drivers are still wedded to their cars

We are just as car dependent today as we were in the early 1990s, according to the paper Trends in Modal Shift: An analysis of the British Social Attitudes Survey by David Leibling.

The study finds that those using public transport in the early 1990s are the only ones who have used it more since.

People who have never used a bus have not been persuaded to give it a go. The number of people driving a car has risen steadily over this time and the number of frequent car drivers is also on the increase.

The Foundation’s Fact File on Car Dependence finds that over the period between 1993 and 2005;


  • The percentage of the population with a valid driving license has risen from 67% to 72%.

  • The total mileage driven has increased by 17% across the country.

  • There has only been a slow down in car usage in London since 2002

  • The number of women driving has risen rapidly from under 50% to over 60%

  • The number of men driving has risen more slowly (75% to 80%)

  • In London the proportion of frequent drivers has fluctuated around 80%

  • Car use peaks amongst the 35-44 age groups


Bus usage in the UK (outside London) hasdeclined by 13% over the past ten years and only 19% of people frequently use buses; a figure which has hardly changed over the years. An increasing number of people never use the bus, (currently standing at 50%). There has also been a 40% increase in train usage over the same period, but this increase has come from people being more willing to use the train for occasional trips rathert than as a main mode of transport. There has been little change in the proportion of people cycling regularly (7% overall population, 5% in London), although TfL reports a 50% increase in cycling in London since 2002. Overall men are more likely to cycle than women and the greatest increase has been seen amongst the 55 to 64 year old age range.

Elizabeth Dainton, Research Development Manager at the RAC Foundation said: “It is clear from this research that
we are still a very car dependent nation. Trying and experiencing new things is part and parcel of our everyday lives, but where transport is concerned we tend to stick with what we know. The fact that 50% of people have never used a bus shows that buses are not a suitable or attractive proposition for many people.

If we are to see a different pattern of car dependency over the next twelve years public transport needs to provide a much better and more reasonable alternative to the car.”

The RAC Foundation’s previous work on Car Dependency** found that twenty percent of car journeys could be made by transport other than the car.

Progress on this outcome has been slow, but if the right mix of targeted solutions are put in place to provide a real alternative to the car for certain journeys some lasting changes could be seen in the future.