UK rail chaos increases demand for cars

More than half of prospective car buyers in the UK said they were considering purchasing a private vehicle because of increasingly unreliable public transport, according Auto Trader. The findings by the online car marketplace, based on its most recent twice yearly survey of customers, compared with just a third who gave the same reason for looking to buy a car in February 2020, before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

The platform registers an average of 65mn visits a month. The pandemic had already stimulated demand for private vehicles as people opted for personal transportation rather than risk infection on buses or trains once lockdown restrictions were lifted. But the further deterioration in train services since the network was hit by industrial action that started in the summer has convinced more people to get behind the steering wheel, said Nathan Coe, chief executive of Auto Trader.

“Initially a lot of people said ‘I’m not really comfortable with public transport because of the health risks’,” he explained. But the most recent findings from its survey, conducted in late September and released just before Christmas, showed that “a lot of people are saying ‘I’ve got to rely on this for my living, and the public transport is just not as reliable as I would like it to be, and certainly less reliable than owned private transport’,” he added.

One out of every 26 trains was cancelled in the UK during the past 12 months, not counting those cancelled because of strikes, according to the Office of Rail and Road. The figure is the highest since records began. The industrial action — the worst since the late 1980s — has further compounded the problem, with the latest wave of rail strikes this week expected to result in the cancellation of more than 80 per cent of services.

Dissatisfaction with public transport is higher in rural areas, Auto Trader found, with 63 per cent of buyers living outside major conurbations citing “can’t rely on public transport” as a reason for shopping for a car, compared with 32 per cent of those living in a large city, or 48 per cent living in suburbs. The number of people visiting Auto Trader’s site in order to buy a car specifically because of poor public transport reliability doubled last year. About 15 per cent of site visitors said they wanted to avoid public transport, compared with 7 per cent in January.

“It’s no surprise that the collapse in essential public transport services is driving the public on to ever busier roads,” said Chris Todd, director of lobby group Transport Action Network, which promotes public transport. “Ministers urgently need to switch funding from road building to modernising rail and prioritising buses,” he said.

A shortage of new cars across the industry, caused by the lack of semiconductors globally and other supply chain challenges, means that prices of used cars are likely to remain high for at least four years, the group also said. “Used car prices have risen by 30 per cent year on year,” said Coe. “We don’t see used car pricing falling away under most scenarios.”


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