On the Road Again…

20 May 20

As restrictions begin to ease, the car may be perceived as the protective bubble. Could we be about to witness a short-term renaissance in the use of the private car?

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The AA have reported that roadside repairs are back up to 80% of their normal levels. Drive-through Covid-19 centres are ramping up across the UK and have become one of the Government’s preferred choice of testing. And pop-up drive-through cinemas are also emerging to tempt a leisure-starved nation. In China, VW have reported car sales returning to normal levels. All this at a time when the cost of a tank of petrol has not been cheaper since 2010.

Across the entire world, cars have largely been left under-utilised and depreciating in value on driveways and roadsides. However, as restrictions begin to ease – and in some instances, because of limitations on the use of more sustainable modes of travel and the fear that many people will understandably have due to the risk of infection from using public transport – the car may be perceived as the protective bubble. Could we be about to witness an extraordinary renaissance in the use of the private car – at the very least, in the short term?

Parking charges at hospitals have been suspended, and key workers have been encouraged to drive to work, in order to work. We now applaud and marvel at the feats of human kindness and sacrifice of key workers, and children analogize nurses with superheroes. A company car was a classic status symbol of a bygone age: a sign to others of financial wealth and success, of independence and freedom; of having something that others aspire to. Have we come full circle where society will set different standards for those that deliver greater good over those that are perceived to only create profit for themselves?

Over coming weeks we will be testing a number of transport-related hypotheses, and we thought we might as well start with a bold one. Covid-19 has the potential to be very good news for car sales and use. People will value personal space and protection, even if it comes at a cost. As we make less frequent visits, the safety of trips will arguably become of greater significance than the time and expense. Of course, whether these vehicles are carbon emitting or sustainable is a different matter, but cars are likely to continue to occupy our neighbourhoods and public spaces – not to mention our consciousness – for the immediate future.

Prior to the pandemic, Britain’s car manufacturing industry was experiencing one of its longest periods of decline since the last recession, and plans had already been announced for the closure of a number of plants. Is the car industry set to become one of the unlikely beneficiaries of the Global shutdown?

Clive Burbridge Director,Transport

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