Traffic is heavier than BEFORE the pandemic: Internet shopping boom and reluctance to use public transport sees more vehicles take the road despite less workers commuting

  • Weekend traffic levels in Britain are now at 113% of pre-pandemic figures while weekends are at 104%
  • Experts point out ‘clear change to the make-up of the traffic’ and say afternoon peak is ‘significantly earlier’
  • Vans and lorries now make up a greater percentage of vehicle journeys, says Transport Technology Forum
  • Fall in commuting ‘may have been offset by rise in people choosing to drive rather than take public transport’ 

Traffic on the UK’s roads is now well above pre-pandemic levels as Britons continue to avoid using public transport, rely more on online shopping, work from home and go on more UK staycations.

Weekend traffic levels have now hit 113 per cent of the figure before the crisis began, while on weekdays they are at 104 per cent – with experts also pointing out a ‘clear change to the make-up of the traffic’.

Vans and lorries now make up a greater percentage of vehicle journeys than pre-pandemic – reflecting a rise in the delivery of goods such as food and clothing, according to the Transport Technology Forum research group. 

Commuting has fallen over the past 15 months due to people working from home, but the researchers said data showed this ‘may have been offset by a rise in people choosing to drive rather than take public transport’.

They added that the school run between 3pm and 4pm is now making up a greater proportion of afternoon traffic than community for work, which normally peaks between 4.30pm and 6.30pm, reported The Times.

This means the ‘afternoon peak is significantly earlier’ than before the pandemic, TTF said. The data is especially interesting given that Transport for London currently defines the afternoon peak on its services as 4pm to 7pm.

Last week, Department for Transport data showed weekday road traffic had exceeded pre-pandemic levels for the first time, with the number of vehicles on Britain’s roads on May 28 at 104 per cent of the figure before the crisis.

The rise in vehicle use on that date was driven by it being the Friday before a bank holiday weekend, but traffic for the previous four days still averaged 96 per cent of pre-pandemic levels.

Weekend road traffic has been at or near 100 per cent since mid-April, and demand for public transport has not recovered as quickly as road traffic. On June 6, weekend traffic levels hit 113 per cent of the pre-pandemic total. 

Road traffic on May 28 was at 104 per cent of the pre-pandemic figure. Pictured: The M25 in Leatherhead, Surrey, on that day

On May 28, bus use was 64 per cent outside London and 65 per cent within the capital. The number of journeys on the mainline rail network was just 45 per cent of normal, although that figure is provisional.

The boom in UK staycations and people making day trips to the seaside and beauty spots has been a major factor behind the rise in road traffic, with foreign holidays off the cards because of the need to self-isolate once home.

But the Government is hoping to convince more people to take the train for their UK holiday, with a new rail pass for domestic holidaymakers to be launched later this year a part of a plan to reboot the domestic tourism industry. 

And foreign holidays are unlikely to restart soon, especially as Boris Johnson faces a furious backlash from Conservative MPs as he prepares to put the final lifting of coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England on hold.

The Prime Minister is expected to announce the ending of social-distancing rules – which had been slated for June 21 – will be delayed for four weeks to July 19, with the decision having been signed off by senior ministers.

The move follows warnings from scientists that the rapid spread of the Delta variant first identified in India risks a ‘substantial’ third wave if it is allowed to spread unchecked.

Mr Johnson is expected to appeal to the public to show patience, with one last push to ensure that when controls do finally end it is ‘irreversible’.

However, it comes as a huge setback to many businesses – particularly in the battered hospitality sector – which had pinned their hopes on a full summer reopening to recoup some of the losses of the past year.

There was deep frustration among lockdown sceptics on the Conservative benches who said there was no reason not to end the restrictions as those most at risk of death or serious illness are now fully vaccinated.

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