Blog Post

Part 2: How is lockdown changing Londoners’ travel habits?

Rob Whitehead presents a detailed analysis our recent survey findings on Londoners’ travel habits.

Read Part 1

Earlier this month we reported on new polling looking at Londoners’ travel habits during lockdown. The Londoners we surveyed painted a picture of a city transformed by coronavirus.

In this blog I dive deeper into the survey results to try and see what else they tell us about Londoners and their transport choices, particularly with an eye to the future, as well as highlighting some key differences across class, ethnicity and geography.

Overall we find a city that expects to travel less, and to drive and cycle more (although less than we initially thought) but that may cautiously return to public transport.

Previously we found that Londoners generally supported the temporary, and permanent, provision of wider pavements, and cycle lanes. Almost three quarters were in favour of the compulsory use of facemasks on public transport, pre-figuring the policy change announced by the government. Post-lockdown, Londoners seemed set to shun public transport, return to their cars, and do more cycling and walking.

We also asked Londoners about three scenarios: a complete end to all lockdown measures in three, six or 12 months. For each scenario, we asked respondents if they thought they would use different modes of transport more, less, or about the same amount, compared to pre-lockdown.

Across all scenarios the net figure (the proportion predicting an increase minus the proportion predicting a decrease) is consistently high for walking and running (between +26 and +29 net increase). But, perhaps counter-intuitively, the longer the lockdown, the less the expected reduction in public transport use:


For example, following a six month lockdown expected bus use is at net -12, and for a 12 month lockdown it reduces to only net -8. These responses suggest that confidence in the safety of public transport might grow the longer the lockdown, perhaps revealing an assumption that length of lockdown relates to a more complete eradication of COVID-19.

They might also show that the larger the disruption, the more chance people will try out alternative modes, in particular cycling and driving.

Some media coverage, and our poll in some ways, suggest a future cycling surge. However, the cycling uptick we predicted in our initial analysis looks overstated when we include those respondents who did not travel this way before lockdown and say that they will not cycle after lockdown.

The detailed findings reveal a more nuanced picture. Of all respondents (including ‘don’t knows’ and ‘not applicables’), actually only 16 per cent said they would cycle more – one third of those ‘expressing a view’, whereas 13 per cent said they would cycle less: an overall position of net +3. This is not as striking as our initial findings. But it still could represent a considerable change in any city where bicycle journeys’ ‘modal share’ (pre-crisis) is only two per cent. The survey also suggests that the longer the lockdown, the greater the expectation of cycling (rises to net +7, i.e. more shift towards this mode in the six and 12 months scenarios). Interestingly, there is a difference across ethnicity. Ethnic minority respondents are less likely to cycle after lockdown in our three month scenario (net -1), in contrast with white respondents who are more likely to cycle compared to before lockdown (net +5).  There is a similar ethnicity difference on walking expectations post-lockdown too (+22 compared to +28).

So there is a significant group of Londoners who seem ready to consider cycling in the future. But it’s worth pausing for a second to consider the 48 per cent of respondents who say that cycling is not a mode they use, nor will use after lockdown.

Remarkably, this view is held far more strongly in the DE socio-economic group (70 per cent) than in the AB group (34 per cent). It is also held more strongly by our white respondents (52 per cent) compared to our ethnic minority respondents (only 40 per cent). More predictably perhaps, there are more ‘non-cyclists’ in outer London (50 per cent) than inner London (43 per cent), though perhaps not as different a gap as some might have predicted.

As with cycling so too with cars. Rather than the third of respondents that we initially reported saying they would drive more, when we exclude those who ‘don’t know’ or are ‘non applicable’, our analysis shows a likely increase in car usage of net +13. Of those who own a car this is net +22 (35 per cent say they’ll use their car more, 49 per cent say about the same and 13 per cent say they’ll use their car less).

This is still pretty gloomy for transport managers who have sweated blood to persuade drivers to use public transport over the last 20 years, but it is at least lower than some of the more pessimistic forecasts.

As London finds its post-COVID-19 mojo, we risk slipping back on the strides made towards sustainable transport. London desperately needs its transport mix to be efficient, low carbon and affordable. Ideally, it would promote our health too. Finding new solutions to discourage car use, encourage activity, and rehabilitate and decarbonise public transport will be paramount. It is doable, but will need smart thinking and bold action.

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.