The Cost of Rural Travel (SMART Project)

park bench

The report 'The Costs of Rural Travel', published as part of the SMART project, addresses some of the issuesraised by recent increases in traffic in the countryside alongside a decrease in bus services. It is based on research in two Oxfordshire villages, both of which exemplify changes commonly found in many 'commuter belt' or semi-rural locations in SE England and elsewhere. In one of the villages studied, Chalgrove, there has been a doubling of the number of households, car ownership and average distance travelled over the last twenty years. These villages have experienced and influx of people, many seeking what they perceive to be a better quality of life in the countryside and also, in many cases, living a 'commuting' lifestyle, travelling to work in London, Oxford or other cities.

Executive Summary from the report

This report addresses some of the issues raised by recent increases in traffic in the countryside alongside a decrease in bus services. It is based on research in two Oxfordshire villages, both of which exemplify changes commonly found in many in ‘commuter belt’ or semi-rural locations in SE England and elsewhere.

In one of the villages studied, Chalgrove, there has been a doubling of the number of households, car ownership and average distance travelled over the last twenty years. These villages have experienced an influx of people many seeking what they perceive to be a better quality of life in the countryside and also, in many cases, living a ‘commuting’ lifestyle, travelling to work in London, Oxford or other cities.

Quantitative and qualitative data was collected and the attitudes and travel patterns of high and low energy users compared. Respondents’ attitudes to acceptable travel provision were also sought, both for themselves and for ‘families with young children in areas like this’.

The travel rich

Those who travel the most are more unhappy than those who travel less: they are three times more likely to assert that their quality of life would improve with less travel

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Those who travel the most are twice as likely to agree with the statement that the ‘quality of rural life is threatened by car use’ than those who travel least.

It is clear that there is a big difference between those who travel a great deal and those who do not. The respondents in the 10% of households using the most energy travelled ten times further than people in the 10% of households using the least energy. It is not travel by the poor that is creating the environmental damage.

The travel poor

Non-car-owning rural residents went to only a third of the places visited by car-owners indicating less access to facilities than car-owning households.

Bus passengers’ have about half the opportunities to choose to travel by car compared to those who use other modes of transport.

People without cars are much less likely to be given lifts by neighbours (4% of 1995 trips in car-less households were made by car, compared with 28% in 1977).

The alternative is to use public transport, but bus services have declined, despite the increasing number of people living in rural areas.

Greener Options

Twenty-five percent of car journeys were four miles or less and seven percent were half a mile or less. Up to a quarter of car journeys could be made by bicycle if more respondents were willing and able to cycle four miles.

Nearly one in five journeys to work by car were of less than four miles, and took an average of 10 minutes. It would have taken 25 minutes or less to walk, instead of using the car, on 40% of the journeys to work.

Project details