Blog - July 2010
I read with interest Phil Goodwin’s Comment piece in Local Transport Today of 25 June in which he introduced the concept of ‘peak car’, and look forward to his promised further exposition. In the meantime, let me observe that as far as London is concerned, peak car use came and went at least fifteen years ago, when none of us noticed. Transport for London’s most recent ‘Travel in London’ report records a steady decline in private transport’s share of trips since at least 1993 (then 50%, 41% in 2008). Correspondingly, public transport’s mode share has risen from 24% to 33%, while walking and cycling have been steady at about 25%.
Historically, car use has invariably increased as incomes have risen. So it is remarkable that this trend has gone into reverse in London, a prosperous world city with a growing population. Contributory factors include the inability to add to road capacity (indeed, bus lanes and pedestrianisation have subtracted carriageway), pervasive constraints on parking, the congestion charging zone, an increasingly youthful demographic resulting in repopulation of the inner city, and substantial investment in public transport. The growth in inhabitants of nearly a million over the past twenty years means higher population density and hence smaller catchment areas, whether of schools or supermarkets, which in turn make more feasible access by public transport.
The Office of National Statistics projects that over the next two decades the UK population is on course to grow by eight million to 70m. The global population is currently 6.8bn and is expected to peak at about 9bn. Most of these extra people will live in urban areas. If new housing is built on green field sites at the edge of existing towns, then car based mobility will be what the inhabitants will want, with growth in carbon emissions hard to avoid. If, on the other hand, the additional population is accommodated within existing cities at higher densities, then public transport – especially rail-based – would be the basis for mobility. If London is the model for future urbanisation, then car use may indeed peak.