The Metropolis

It seems remarkable how many Londoners still drive to work

Mike Pollitt | Tuesday 24 June, 2014 13:00

Chart showing how Londoners get to work by mode, 2011 data

I’ve lived in London for 5 years and always travelled to work by tube. The vast majority of people I know get to work by tube, bus, or bicycle. Surely that makes me typical?


The chart above, from the latest analysis of the 2011 census data by the GLA (pdf), shows how persistent the car remains as a commuting choice.

When you add up bus, tube and trains, you can see that public transport overall carries more passengers than cars. But the 1.2m people who drive to work should stand as a challenge to anyone who doesn’t drive and assumes their experiences of public transport are typical of the majority of Londoners.

And if you believe that having large numbers of people driving to work carries with it a lot of negative consequences for the city, then it should also stand as an illustration of how far away we remain from a vision of London as a city which is not defined in part by the car. Because while this number remains high, the pressure on politicians to deliver for drivers in the form of new roads and driver-friendly policies will remain.

Digging a little deeper, it’s unsurprising that most car trips are made to workplaces in Outer London, where traffic is (generally) lighter and public transport generally less accessible.

Even so, that 20% of people drive to work in Hackney, Hammersmith & Fulham, Haringey, Islington, Lambeth, Lewisham, Newham, Southwark, Wandsworth (i.e. “Rest of Inner), more than get a bus, seems fairly remarkable.

Perhaps the most important question is how these choices are changing, or likely to change, over time.

Here are the percentage shares compared between the 2001 census and the 2011 census.

So over time, public transport is gaining and cars are losing. It feels surprising that cycling and working from home have not yet eaten further into the car’s share. If those two shares increase over the next decade and car use declines, would anyone argue that the city will be better off?

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