Transport options top of the agenda as COVID-19 radically changes travel and working patterns across West Yorkshire

An almost 40% rise in ‘active travel’ consideration, like walking and cycling, encourages a rethink for the region’s travel leaders.

COVID-19 has caused a radical shift in people’s transport and working patterns across West Yorkshire. Cycling and walking are becoming a more viable option than the car for many journeys, and the current restrictions mean passengers have had to explore options over their usual bus and rail.

An online survey of over 2,000 regular public transport carried out by the West Yorkshire Combined Authority in June, found that despite rising car use, there was a “strong intention” to walk or cycle more.

While the temptation to use the car was still strong, with 31% of respondents saying they expected to travel by car or van more in the coming weeks, many are choosing the open air options instead as an equal 31% said they would cycle more now, and an enthusiastic 37% declared they would travel on foot.

Councillor Susan Hinchcliffe, Chair of the West Yorkshire Combined Authority and Leader of Bradford Council, said: “We have seen large numbers of public transport users switching to other ways of getting about because of the COVID-19 changes to our way of life, including a big increase in walking and cycling both for work and leisure.

“Pre lockdown, the Combined Authority had made a significant investment in improving cycling and walking routes across our region and promoting these as an option for work and leisure.From connecting people across our region, to reducing air pollution and congestion, and combatting physical inactivity and obesity, we know increasing the numbers of people choosing to travel by bike or on foot has a vital role to play in making West Yorkshire a great place to live, work and play.”

“Our transport survey has also shown a clear divide between the most and least affluent in our region, with people living in the most disadvantaged areas far less likely to be able to work from home and considering alternative modes of transport as a result."

The positive choice: The overwhelming majority of those who cycled (73%) and walked (61%) more than before lockdown, said it was a positive experience. 45% said quieter or safer roads and 16% said less pollution and/or noise were positive aspects of walking, running or cycling.

Half an hour ‘hikes or bikes’: While the rise in cycling and walking was mostly for exercise or recreation, a significant proportion was as an alternative to public transport (40% walking, 28% cycling) with 59% of walkers saying they would be willing to walk up to half an hour, and the majority of cyclists (78%) willing to cycle for 30-60 minutes.

With two-thirds of journeys in West Yorkshire under five miles, this could see a continuation of encouragement to travel in this way. For example, CityConnect, the Combined Authority’s award-winning active travel programme, contains an interactive journey planner and information about cycling and walking routes across West Yorkshire as well as free support to businesses, schools and communities, including free adult cycle training.

Two wheels vs Four? While 8% of respondents said they had thought about buying a car, 11% had thought about buying a bicycle or electric bicycle, with those aged 16-34 much more likely to be considering buying a bicycle or electric bicycle.

A demographic divide: The survey also revealed differing experiences of lockdown among West Yorkshire’s communities. Those in the region’s most disadvantaged communities are far more likely to still be leaving the house for work, and have been forced to find alternatives to public transport.

Only half (50%) of respondents living in the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods have worked from home during lockdown, compared to 78% in more affluent areas.

Because of the need to find alternatives to public transport, roughly equal numbers of those living in the disadvantaged neighbourhoods had thought about buying a car (12%) or a bike (11%), compared to 4% who had considered buying a car and 8% who had considered buying a bike in the least disadvantaged neighbourhoods.

The findings are from an online survey of over 2,199 regular public transport users conducted through the Combined Authority’s YourVoice engagement service. The survey took place 12-22 June, after non-essential shops reopened, but before pubs, bars, cafes, restaurants, hairdressers and places of worship reopened on 4 July.

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority is working in partnership with local authorities to deliver a package of emergency measures, including trial cycling and walking infrastructure, to help people move around the region safely in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

This work includes both short and longer-term proposals, which have been submitted to Government to access £12.5 million funding for West Yorkshire through the Emergency Active Travel Fund.

From route information to free adult cycle training and support for businesses, find out how CityConnect can help you cycle and walk more at www.cyclecityconnect.co.uk.

The full results can be read on the YourVoice page here.