3 min read

Travel by rail, bus, coach, and by car has experienced upheaval in the last decade. This rapid change has been driven by external factors such as economic, demographic and internal shifts. The primary change, however, has been the growth of digital tools, ensuring greater efficiency and responsiveness to user needs. The interplay between modes of travel has also affected the UK transport industry as a whole. Specifically, shifts in demand for one over the other during this period have resulted in major industry impacts. 

Rail increases its dominance

Since the turn of the century, rail networks have provided faster access to increasingly congested city centres. This has led to a growth in passenger volume. And, it’s a trend that hasn’t slowed over the last ten years. Multiple statistical sources show that this isn’t only a London-based phenomenon but nationwide. Let’s take the example of a town like Huddersfield on the mainline between Manchester and Leeds. It has seen passenger throughput rise by a notable 91% over the last ten years.

Buses empty out

Across the country, the public transport mode which has suffered most in the last ten years is local buses. The majority of towns and cities have seen at least a 10% drop in total bus journeys. This is true for London too. That’s despite the large centre having one of the most extensive transport services of any major city worldwide. Ironically, this drop in use has coincided with something else. That is the ongoing investment in converting bus fleets to cleaner fuel and electrical (or hybrid) motors. 

The rise of the PHV app

The overall rise in urban traffic volume is one significant factor in creating longer than average journey times. The bigger factor, however, is the massive rise in the use of Private Hire Vehicles (PHVs). These are seen as an alternative to bus travel. PHVs have proved more convenient and faster than buses. The rise of taxi-hailing services like Uber has caused the use of PHVs to increase by around 40%. London, for example, has one PHV for every 100 inhabitants. Moreover, the traditional, locally licenced taxi market is seeing new entrants every day. This trend is only likely to accelerate, given the growth of reasonably-priced digital booking and management systems. 

Usage patterns change

The increasing use of technology is changing how we think of UK transport. We have become used to (and now expect) integrated and seamless payment and information services across different types of transport.

There is evidence to suggest that the impacts of technology and widespread social change are beginning to be felt. The experience of travelling into and around cities has seen transformative change. This includes an overall drop in season ticket sales and passengers simply making fewer trips.

The most recent National Travel Survey (regarded as the most reliable source for transport planning) bears out the above trends. It also notes that in every year since the seventies, journeys for commuting, leisure and shopping have steadily dropped in number.

Social trends and public transport 

These changes are large-scale and have already had a significant effect on UK transport – local, interurban and national. Apart from an ageing population who are less likely to travel, younger generations are changing their attitudes. Specifically, they are more conscious about the impact travel is having on the environment. There is also a sharp rise in e-commerce and working from home. These demographic and social trends, together with digitalised services, are sure to impact the travel sector further.