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Travel and Transport Trends for an Uncertain 2023

Entering 2022, we might have thought we’d put some of the crazy times behind us. A new post-pandemic era for transport in line with shifting travel modes and trends. Well, that was the line of thought for predictions for last year anyway. But, as this year has strikingly shown us, predictions can be pretty unpredictable.

The economy has taken a dramatic turn, with cost of living, surging inflation and a recession creating significant uncertainty. This has been combined with a multitude of strike actions in the transport and public sector throughout the year. And climate change means random weather cycles are becoming more frequent and severe. All these factors are constantly affecting when, where and how people travel.

Despite the uncertainty of this backdrop, we’re still going to predict the future anyway. Here are some of our thoughts for what may happen in the year ahead.

Some Lessons From 2022

The impact of the COVID-19 on travel patterns and modes remains. Public transport is still less busy than pre-pandemic, with a gradual 2-3 times a week return to the office for workers. But the current cost of living crisis and related factors could cause a change to these habits, as predicted below.

With regards to active travel, the latest data from the National Travel Survey released earlier this year shows that cycling trips, stages (cycling as part of an overall trip) and miles cycled have fallen back in line with pre-pandemic levels.

But, on the other hand, e-scooter usage increased dramatically, both in trials and illegal private use. In Bristol, we have already seen e-scooter use reach half the levels of cyclists in the city – this trend is only set to grow. Infrastructure is still playing catch-up alongside these rapid changes, with safety taking the hit.

The DfTs recently released data on e-scooter accidents in 2021 showed a stark increase in casualties compared with 2020. And road safety will be a key area for the year ahead. The latest DfT data released on road safety has shown the need to double the current rate of decline in road casualties if we are to achieve Vision Zero by 2041.

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Here are my predictions for transport in 2023.

The Cost of Living Effect

The modal changes in travel triggered by the pandemic will continue to evolve in line with factors such as the cost of living crisis, increasing fuel and heating costs, recession and climate events. It’s anticipated more people will look to public transport and/or active travel as a primary travel mode and return to the office more to save on domestic bills. Enhancing accessibility and providing more options for these travel modes will be increasingly important to facilitate this change.

Councils and transport authorities will look to introduce new initiatives to encourage modal shift from private vehicles to greater public transport use. Germany, for example, introduced a flat-rate fare this year of 9 euros for a monthly public transport pass in June, July and August, and have since agreed on a follow up 49-euro monthly ticket from January 2023. In the UK, the Bus Recovery Grant has been extended to March 2023 to protect bus services that are essential to communities most affected by the cost of living crisis.

Overall, there will be the balance to strike and explore between people wanting to go into the office for heating/electricity versus the cost of fuel versus the availability of public transport and active travel.

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Wide-Scale Data Sharing and Active Travel Initiatives

We’ll also see wide-scale global collaboration and sharing of best practice for safely managing the increasingly complex integration of mobility types and multimodal journeys on the road network. For instance, the UK will be looking to access data from Australia in terms of higher levels of e-scooter usage; or taking stock of the world-leading bike infrastructure in the Netherlands; or adopting the policies which have led to the fast growth of EVs in the Nordics. Meanwhile, we continue to see people learning from the UK as well, whether that’s TfL’s well-known open data initiatives and world-leading data consolidation frameworks, or US cities trying to learn from our cycling transition, where places like Amsterdam can be too far ahead to be a good benchmark.

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For active travel, changes could take the form of more active travel rental schemes, 15 minute neighborhoods and mobility hubs to encourage multi-modal travel journeys and commutes (such as combining cycle and bus schemes). There will be the continued pedestrianization of commercial areas to draw in more people on foot to high streets. We will also see even greater uptake of cargo-bikes for local deliveries that don’t have the running costs of vans and that can beat congestion.

Road Safety Focus

Earlier this year, Wales became the first UK nation to introduce a default 20mph speed limit for restricted roads across the country.

In 2023, we can expect to see the continued growth in 20 mph zones in urban and residential areas. This will be alongside an enhanced focus on road safety that will include schemes like dedicated and protected routes for vulnerable road users such as cyclists, e-scooters and pedestrians. But it’s worth noting that research in Belfast published by BMJ highlights that introducing a 20mph zone does not necessarily equate to a reduction in traffic collisions – behavioral change needs to follow.

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So, to maximize the impact of this investment, we’ll see growing use of technology to quantify and measure the impacts of those safety interventions, whether that be AI-powered sensors like VivaCity to examine e-scooter/bicycle/pedestrian interactions, or harvesting data from increasingly automated vehicle safety systems for high-level analyses. This will reduce levels of partisanship through both recognizing road safety interventions and offering alternative changes.

The Rise of Electric Vehicles (EVS)

As we drive towards the 2030 ban on new petrol and diesel vehicle sales, there will be an even greater transfer towards electric vehicles for those who can afford them. In central urban areas, the continuing roll out and expansion of clear air zones will accelerate the changeover, as will onward selling of second hand EVs (in time). While demand may be transiently reduced as Vehicle Excise Duty (VED) is introduced for EVs, the underlying drivers of the climate emergency, upcoming petrol/diesel bans, and ever-decreasing manufacturing costs won’t be blunted for long.

2023: Time to Navigate the Uncertainty

These areas represent just a microcosm of the sheer variety of travel trends and predictions to be made. However, they hit on some key themes and areas that are sure to be near the top of the agenda in 2023.

The current landscape reaffirms the need for adaptable and responsive strategy, infrastructure and technology that is able to keep up with any sudden travel changes in response to societal shifts. It also showcases the need to have policies that can increase the availability of different travel options and, crucially, provide the means and infrastructure to facilitate these shifts safely.

Another year of changes and uncertainty awaits. For transport, the ability to accrue data, insight and understanding will be essential for navigating the uncertainty 2023 will almost certainly bring.

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