Will COVID-19 have a long-term impact on UK travel habits?  How should companies respond as we gradually head out of lockdown?  What are the long-term implications for urban centres, business strategies and the travel industry?   

As part of our Hubbub Explores series, we undertook public polling to assess the mood of the nation.  Our findings are summarised below.   On 19th June we are inviting organisations to join a workshop to discuss the implications.  To further inform that debate we are asking organisations and employees to complete travel survey developed in partnership with the Behavioural Insights Team: 

Employer travel survey for organisations 

Employee travel survey for individuals   

The polling of 3,000 people from across the UK took place in early May and revealed some interesting insights

Environmental benefits were noticed 

The government’s ‘Stay at Home message emptied the streets of traffic and the skies of planes with an immediate impact on air quality and noise, which was noticed by three-quarters of the 3,000 people polled in the national survey.  Results revealed a clear desire from the majority for these benefits to be retained during the post-COVID-19 rebuild. 

Cycling and walking increased 

During the lockdown, over a third of people surveyed have walked or cycled for a journey where they would have previously driven or used public transport.  Just under 40% of people noticed safer cycling conditions and want this to continue into the long-term.  A quarter of people have enjoyed cycling and feel more confident on a bike due to reduced traffic levels This was particularly the case for people under 34 and for men more than women.   

More than half reported walking more, and for 25-44 year olds this was as high as 62%.  The figure generally increased with household income.  Walking has often been to local green spaces with a third of people saying they have discovered new green areas near their home and a similar number saying they are using green spaces more often.  Over half of people said they are appreciating these green areas more and in urban areas they are seen as important to reduce stress.  

Around 40% of young people reported feeling stressed about using public transport and around a quarter reported that they have been using the car for more short journeys to avoid public transport. The emptier roads have led to less beneficial changes with 40% of respondents noticing more vehicles speeding or being driven dangerously.  

Most of those who can work from home find it positive 

Over a fifth of people reported that they were working from home for the first time whilst a third said that this was not a possibility.  There was a marked difference across income levels with the higher paid generally able to work from home and the lower paid needing to go to their workplace. 

The majority of those working from home had found it easier than expected, believed they were being more efficient and were enjoying the experience.  Three-quarters feel more comfortable using on-line platforms such as Zoom and Microsoft Teams than before.  The main difficulties in home working were cited as a lack of a suitable space, poor technology/connectivity and having distractions such as children at home. 

With regards to mental health, 42% believe their mental health had improved as a result from working from home whilst 19% felt it had deteriorated.  60% felt their work-life balance had improved with 16% sensing a deterioration.   Over a third said they have found it hard to switch off since they started home working. 

In the longterm, almost two-thirds said they hope their employer allows them to work from home more. 

How will commuting change? 

People seem to be concerned about returning to work.  Nearly half are nervous for health reasons and 55% are not looking forward to the prospect of commuting again. 

At a policy level, there was a clear desire amongst respondents for government to use the crisis as a way of promoting cycling, walking and public transport instead of the car; two-thirds of people said we should be using cars less.  If cars are to be used, the majority favoured incentivising investment in electric vehicles supported by an infrastructure of charging points. 

We asked people who are working how they plan to get to work as the lockdown lifts.  More people intend to walk, cycle and run, with 39% planning to walk more and 15% intending to cycle.  4% indicated that they will use an electric or push scooter.  13% of respondents said that they would use the car more whilst 24% said they will use it less.   

What about flying and holidays? 

Holiday plans are currently in limbo with 1 in 5 having no idea if their holiday will go ahead this year. 1 in 10 are waiting for their holiday to be cancelled and another 1 in 10 are in the process of trying to get a holiday refund. 

With regard to the future, views are split.  23% of people can’t wait to get abroad once it is safe whilst around 20% of people intend to fly less and take more UK holidays.  There is still a health concern about flying, which was expressed by 19% of respondents. 

What are the implications? 

It is risky trying to draw too many conclusions whilst still in the crisis and with the public mood volatile.  However, there do seem to be some significant trends which could stick.  Companies need to think about how best to embrace the 'working from home' revolution and the impact it will have on their ways of working, office spaces and relationships with clients/suppliers.   

Local government needs to think about how to make it as easy as possible for people to walk and cycle, retaining the significant benefits of better air quality, health outcomes and reduced carbon emissions.  National government could create a more sustainable rebuild by helping to make homes more energy efficient, by investing in digital connectivity, by speeding up the transition to electric vehicles and creating greener, more resilient urban centres.   

Join the conversation

This will all be discussed at the next Hubbub Explores workshop and we hope you are able to attend. RSVP to [email protected] to reserve your place.

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Interested in our polling? You can find the full raw data here.