Public transport attitudes across the lifecourse – and across the country

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The UK’s car-dependence is well-documented. This is reflected in a survey on attitudes to public transport undertaken by the International Longevity Centre-UK with the support of over-50s insurance provider RIAS. As such, half (50 per cent) of all drivers responded that public transport would rarely or never be a realistic alternative to driving for them. Almost one in three (30 per cent) of drivers responded that public transport would sometimes be a realistic alternative. Clearly, however, once you have bought, fuelled and insured a car, even if you could theoretically use public transport occasionally, you are very unlikely in practice to leave your car sat on the driveway.


Surprisingly there is not a huge amount of variety in the results when they are disaggregating by age. The main exception is the 55-64 age group, who are more likely (59 per cent) than every other cohort to argue that public transport would rarely or never be a realistic alternative to driving. We may be witnessing the impending retirement of a very car-dependent generation. In terms of regional differences, drivers in the North-East and the South-West are the most likely to report that public transport is rarely or never a realistic alternative to driving (62 per cent and 63 per cent, respectively) and the least likely to report that it would very often or quite often be a realistic alternative (eleven per cent and fifteen percent, respectively). Interestingly, these are the regions with the highest proportions of drivers.

The biggest complaint about public transport, for all age groups, is that services are too limited (64 per cent of drivers offered this response). Clearly no public transport service will ever compete with the 24-hour, door-to-door service offered by the car in most circumstances. It should be noted, however, that drivers aged 65 or over were significantly less likely (48 per cent) to make this complaint than all other age groups.

Other significant complaints included cost (34 per cent), unreliability (34 per cent) and over-crowding (29 per cent). Drivers aged 17-24 are far more likely than all other age groups to complain that public transport is too expensive and unreliable.

When results on the main complaints are broken down by region, the scores for London stand out. We know that Londoners are, by far, the most frequent users of public transport. Yet London drivers are not significantly less likely to complain about public transport than the population in general; they are, more or less, just as likely to complain about unreliability and physical inaccessibility, and slightly more likely to complain about cost. The biggest difference, however, relates to over-crowding, which 60 per cent of London drivers report is a major limitation of public transport; no other region has a score above 31 per cent.

Craig Berry

The survey results are presented in full in ILC-UK’s report ‘Driving in Later Life: Options for Reform’, which you can download here.

Charles Musselwhite has today published a think piece ‘Successfully giving up driving for older people’, which can be downloaded here.

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