The DfT rejects theory of ‘peak car’ and is forecasting road traffic in England to grow by 43% by 2040

The DfT has rejected the theory of ‘peak car’ and is forecasting road traffic in England to grow by 43% by 2040.

In the same week, The London Mayor's Roads Task Force has set out a bold new vision for the future of London's roads and streets. Both reports have drawn criticism from experts who claim that the evidential scrutiny underpinning the reports is far less than robust that it could be.

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Revised road traffic forecasts for England were published last week alongside the Command Paper Action for roads (see above). The new central forecast produced by the National Transport Model (NTM) is that traffic will grow by 43% between 2010 and 2040. Car traffic is forecast to grow 39%, light goods vehicle traffic 80%, and HGV 19%.

Growth is predicted to be highest on the strategic road network (Highways Agency roads) – 46% – compared with 41% on local roads.

The results of six sensitivity  tests are also presented in which assumptions about population, GDP and oil prices are adjusted. The lowest forecast traffic growth is 23% and the highest is 67%.

The DfT predicts sluggish traffic growth up to 2015 in line with projected low GDP growth and high fuel costs. “As England then moves out of the recession and rapid fuel efficiency improvements significantly decrease the fuel cost of driving, traffic is expected to rise by 19% from 2015 to 2025,” the DfT explains. “As the rate of improvements in vehicle fuel efficiencies declines after 2025 we observe a slower growth in traffic.”

The DfT outlines its assumptions for three key drivers of road traffic between 2010 and 2040:
• population growth – the Office of National Statistics projects a range of 10% to 30% with the central traffic forecasts based on  20% growth (representing an extra 10.5 million people)
• economic growth – the Office of Budgetary Responsibility projects growth in the range 37%–101% with the central traffic forecast assuming 66% growth
• fuel costs – the fuel cost of driving per mile is forecast to fall 24% for cars and 7% for light goods vehicles but increase by 36% for HGVs (as increases in fuel prices for the latter outweigh improvements in fuel efficiency)

The DfT has rejected the theory of ‘peak car’ and is forecasting road traffic in England to grow by 43% by 2040.Reflecting on the traffic forecasts this week, Phil Goodwin, professor of transport policy at the University of West of England, said: “If these forecast traffic growth rates are correct, they have a very important policy consequence. Congestion will increase and traffic speeds will fall for the foreseeable future, even if all the mooted capacity increases are delivered – both on the strategic network and even more so on local roads.”

Action for roads rejects ‘peak car’ – the theory that road traffic levels have reached a historic peak and will now remain static or decline.

The DfT discusses last December’s On the move report by a research team led by Professor Peter Jones of University College London. It found that between 1997 and 2010 driving licence holding amongst young men had fallen, company car mileage dropped sharply, and traffic in London fell faster than the rest of the UK.

The DfT says these groups make up less than 30% of the population. “The other 70% increased their car mileage right up to the 2007 recession,” it says. “As [economic] growth returns, we still expect to see a return to nationwide traffic growth.”

The Department concedes that traffic trends are not uniform. Traffic grew much faster on the strategic road network than on the local road network between 2000 and 2007. “Since 2010, while traffic has dropped on local roads, it has increased by more than a billion vehicle miles on strategic roads,” it adds.

“The biggest urban areas, particularly London, are seeing very different trends from the rest of the country,” it notes.

The DfT admits that the National Transport Model has not accurately represented traffic trends in the capital. Between 2003 and 2010 the NTM predicted a fall in London car traffic of 1.5% but traffic counts suggest it actually fell 7.8%. The

DfT identifies a number of factors to explain the discrepancy:
• car ownership – “while we have different car ownership saturation levels for different area types, including London, these may need to be re-estimated”
• public transport – “we will need to revised our modelling on the impact [public transport investment] may have on car travel”
• road capacity, car parking space, cost and availability.

"There is evidence to suggest that in recent years London road capacity has been significantly reduced due to bus lanes, congestion charging and other road works. There is also a significant constraint and cost to parking in London which could reduce the demand to travel by car. We will need to revisit our modelling on the impact this may have on car travel.”

The DfT identifies a number of projects that will be used to improve the NTM:
• recalibration of trip rates
• investigation of light goods vehicle market maturity assumptions
• London travel forecasting
• incorporation in the fleet of ultra-low emission vehicles

Road traffic forecasts 2013 is available online