Increase in congestion would cost everyone in the UK £2,000 a year, charity warns

Congestion could reach unprecedented levels costing individuals more than £2000 per year in a post-pandemic UK unless more is done to make it easier for people to walk and cycle shorter distances warns Cycling UK.

Cycling UK raised its concerns as England emerges from a second lockdown and the UK starts planning for a post-pandemic world, where more people drive to the workplace due to concerns about public transport and parents feel forced to use the car for the school run.

The charity points to findings from the RAC’s Report on Motoring which indicates there is a significant change in attitudes towards public transport. The report shows only 43% agree they would use their cars less in a post pandemic world if there was better public transport, a sharp fall from 57% in 2019, and the lowest figure since 2002.

Duncan Dollimore, Cycling UK’s head of campaigns said:

“Many people jump in the car because they don’t think there’s a realistic alternative. For some trips and some people there might not be, but most trips in the UK – to the shops, work or dropping the kids off at school – are under five miles2. Nobody’s suggesting that every one of those journeys will be walked or cycled, but a lot of them could be.

“What we need to make sure we get right for post-pandemic UK is the creation of other options for those shorter journeys to driving – that means cycle lanes separated from traffic and low traffic neighbourhoods. The cost to the individual and the economy is too great not to do otherwise.”

Cycling UK research shows there is a risk of British roads being clogged with congestion if the current trend to drive to work continues. The INRIX global traffic scorecard calculated last year congestion cost the average UK road user £894 per year and the wider economy £6.9bn.

Government figures, from 21 September to 4 October this year, show that around 59.3% of the UK workforce were working at their normal place of work, compared to pre-Covid levels – but generating 88% of pre-Covid weekday car traffic.

If people continue to choose driving over other options in similar proportions, the charity estimates that a mere 8% increase in employees returning to the workplace would generate the extra 12% increase in traffic to take the UK up to pre-Covid levels. If the entire workforce returns to their normal place of work and chose to drive, car traffic could mushroom, potentially reaching 150% of pre-Covid levels.

Should this happen, Cycling UK says there would be traffic chaos. Using the Government’s own traffic forecasts one scenario estimates the implications of a 50% increase in vehicle miles travelled, will lead to an exponential increase in congestion, with the percentage of traffic in congested conditions increasing by 129%3.

This increase in traffic would inevitably cause life changing delays to blue light services and hamper essential delivery services. In addition, Cycling UK forecasts that if the traffic in congested conditions more than doubles, then congestion costs are certain to increase and could reach over £15bn per year, or around £2000 per road user.

Duncan Dollimore said:

“For the economy to lose £7bn a year for people to sit in traffic before the pandemic was wasteful – to potentially double that when there are alternatives staring us in the face is criminal. While forecasting congestion costs is not an exact science, it’s clear more people driving will be disastrous for the economy right when it needs all the help it can get.

“We need a better balance in how we make our travel choices. That means more cycling and walking networks – not less, more opportunities for people to access e-bikes, and better integration with public transport once people feel confident to take the bus or train again.

“Making our streets and roads safe for children to walk and cycle to school is not a bad thing – and will actually take cars off the road, reducing congestion. Building back better is an ambition which we should all be able to embrace.”

More people driving will be disastrous for the economy right when it needs all the help it can get

Duncan Dollimore

Philip Harrison, strategic project lead for clinical improvement at University Hospitals Birmingham said:

“At University Hospitals Birmingham Foundation Trust we serve a population of over three million people and employ over 22000 staff.  We see the impact that the over use of cars, vans and trucks has on our staff and patients on a daily basis. 

“Delays to vital ambulance services caused by congestion; illnesses exacerbated by pollution; injuries which are a direct result of our over populated roads – these problems can be tackled if people have safe attractive alternatives to driving for those shorter journeys.  We welcome any initiative to reduce the impact of motor traffic in the Region, like new segregated bike lanes, and encourage staff and patients to take advantage of the growing facilities to cycle or walk to our sites.”

Notes to editors

  1. Cycling UK, the national cycling charity, inspires and helps people to cycle and keep cycling, whatever kind of cycling they do or would like to do. Over a century’s experience tells us that cycling is more than useful transport; it makes you feel good, gives you a sense of freedom and creates a better environment for everyone.
  2. According to the National Travel Survey (England) in 2018, 58% of car journeys were under five miles. In urban areas, more than 40% of journeys were under two miles in 2017–1817. For many people, these journeys are perfectly suited to cycling and walking according page 11 of the Department for Transport’s Gear Change vision  
  3. Department for Transport traffic forecasts, see p62 Scenario 7:
  4. RAC poll is available at:
  5. Transport use during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic: Transport use by mode: Great Britain, since 1 March 2020, Department for Transport
  6. Coronavirus and the economic impacts on the UK: 22 October 2020, Office for National Statistics

Press contact information

For more information, please contact the national Cycling UK press office. Due to the restrictions caused by the coronavirus outbreak, currently the main press office number (01483 238 315) is not being monitored. If you would like to speak to a member of the press office during working hours (0900 - 1700) please call Sam Jones on 07967 193 051 or email publicity@cyclinguk.orgOut of hours, call 07786 320 713.