Driving home for Christmas?

08 December 2020

So, what is our research saying about people’s travel intentions over the Christmas period, including in the 23 to 27 December window?

Two things stand out in what we’ve published today (8 December 2020). A lot of people will be staying at home (six in 10), and those who do travel will mostly do so by car (over eight in 10). Piling the car high with presents and heading off is nothing new of course. But there is some evidence that those who might otherwise have used public transport are choosing to drive this year. Of those driving more than half intend to stay local rather than take to the motorway, with a lot of out and back day trips on Christmas day itself.

Whatever the means of transport, those who are travelling will welcome moves to clear roadworks and alter rail engineering works where possible. We welcomed the decision to waive the admin fee if, having bought an Advance train ticket before the tiers were announced, somebody then decides not to travel.

We’ve written to all train companies asking them to do three things:

  • meet demand and facilitate social distancing as best as possible between 23 and 27 December
  • double check their website and other channels to make sure they are crystal clear about what is running when, what the ticket/reservation arrangements are and what to expect in terms of ‘busyness’
  • where there is still engineering work, make sure there are enough replacement buses/coaches to meet demand while maintaining social distancing.

One group is already heading home. We are nearly at the end of the student travel window, 3 to 9 December. You can see what we found when we asked students at the end of November. Three key points:

  • four in 10 were living away and intended to travel home before Christmas; six in 10 expected to be collected or would drive themselves and one in five intended to travel by train
  • around eight in 10 students planning to travel home by train said they expected to feel safe when travelling, though one in four said they were concerned about using public transport at the moment
  • Saturday just gone, 5 December, was expected to be the most popular day for students to return home.

Information is key. To help people make informed choices about travelling – whether to go at all, and if so by what means. Understanding what to expect is important: some people travelling between 23 and 27 December may not have ventured far from where they live since before March.

Over the next week we are reviewing websites provided by public transport operators, Highways England and motorway services operators to check they are clear about the things people will want to know. If we need to, we’ll work with organisations to help them get things better.

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