People are travelling less often, particularly by car. But Britain has not become a nation of hermits
DOMESTIC travel has got a lot easier in the past 40 years. Vehicles are faster and more efficient; far more people have driving licences; many households now own two cars. Public transport has improved. Even bicycles are lighter and zippier. The broad perception is that the country’s transport networks are creaking under the strain of so many people.
Yet, oddly, people are travelling less. Car and van mileage has fallen over the past four years, mainly because of the economic slump. Yet this comes atop a longer-run trend: for around 15 years, Britons have been making fewer journeys. According to the Department for Transport, the average person now goes on only slightly more trips than he did in the early 1970s, mostly by car. Between the mid-1990s and 2010 individuals made 19% fewer shopping outings. Jaunts to see friends dropped by fully 22%, thanks to a fall in visits to private homes.Why?
The drop in shopping trips is fairly straightforward. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) says there has been a switch from frequent, short journeys on foot to longer, more occasional car trips. Despite the previous Labour government’s “town centre first” policy to promote shopping in urban areas, since 2000 the number of out-of-town stores has continued to grow, whereas more than 45,000 town centre and neighbourhood shops have shut, according to Verdict Research, a retail consultancy.
Shops are bigger and farther apart. Changes in how food is grown, packed and stored mean some foodstuffs last longer; more people have big freezers to keep supplies. Yet the growing dominance of well-stocked chain stores even in town centres reinforces the trend towards fewer trips, both for groceries and for other products.
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