Moving around less

There’s an interesting piece in this week’s Economist, confirming that we are moving around less:  It does seem odd given there are record numbers on the rails and on the Tube, and certainly travelling around the country, one rarely sees an open clear road, but the trend downwards in car travel has now lasted much of the decade and there is no doubting statistics

Yet, overall we are making fewer trips than a decade ago. Instinctively, the statistics feel wrong. Of course the economic situation has reduced demand for travel, as have high fuel prices, but the downward trend started before the economy bombed and the cost of fuel soared. The Economist struggles  somewhat to find a coherent explanation behind the figures. Internet shopping, the fact that people multitask when they go out in their cars – doing a bit of shopping while visiting friends, or buying things in several stores at retail parks or town centres – and rising costs are all part of the explanation.

But as the article points out, the experience of travelling has mostly improved. Cars are far more comfortable, and so are trains and even bikes require less energy to pedal. There are counter trends,too – more centralisation of medical facilities, the closure of local shops – which make people travel further when they do make a trip.

The statistics suggest that there is a reluctance for people to increase the amount of time they spend travel.This has implications for transport planners and politicians. Do we really need the infrastructure they are so keen on providing for us? Are we really moving to a world where people see less travel as a good thing? Simply extrapolating previous rising trends may well prove to be an expensive mistake.


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