David Bizley, Director of Technical, RAC

David Bizley discusses the difference between rural and urban driving.

David Bizley discusses the difference between rural and urban driving.

We live in a society where the car is the key form of transport. This cannot be denied. Out of town shopping requires a car; access to centralised medical services requires a car; the closing down of local services and post offices mean people need to use a car more. With two-thirds of all trips taken by car*, the reality is that millions are dependent on them - and this is magnified in rural areas.

The RAC Report on Motoring 2011 produced some striking evidence to show the scale of the divide between rural and urban motorists when it comes to car use. The choice for rural dwellers is limited to say the least, with 30% saying they live too far away from their nearest bus stop or train station for it to be convenient. In stark contrast just 3% of urban dwellers say this is the case.

In addition to this you also have to look at the level of service in both rural and urban areas. According to The Commission of Rural Communities' State of the Countryside 2010 report 96% of households in urban areas have an hourly or better bus service within 13 minutes walk, compared with 50% in rural areas.

This is why just 25% of rural dwellers choose public transport for shorter journeys and 26% for longer ones. In comparison, 55% of people living in a town or city choose public transport for short journeys and 45% for longer journeys. Those with choice clearly choose it.

This shows how difficult it can be for people living in rural communities to use public transport for their every day activities. For a start, two-thirds of rural drivers have no option but to use their car to get to work compared with less than a third of urban drivers. But the issue goes deeper than that. 80% of those living in the countryside need a car to visit loved ones - almost twice as many as those who live in the city (44%).

The disparity continues across all normal everyday areas of life, as the table below shows:

Table 1: Dependency on car for carrying out certain activities

table

 

On the one hand these statistics show how important the car is across the board for people to complete normal, everyday activities. However, the contrast between urban and rural is striking. It's clear the lack of alternatives makes rural dwellers far more dependent on their cars - to the point where over 70% need to drive to do their essential shopping. With rural public transport being cut, alongside many important concessions that particularly impact the young, this dependency is only going to increase.

And with car dependency in rural areas such an issue, the spiralling cost of fuel is causing major headaches for those who have little or no choice. At present the average cost of petrol is around 135p a litre and the average cost of diesel is around 143p a litre. However, due to the lack of competition, prices in rural communities are often much higher, causing people to think very carefully about the journeys they take.

The RAC Report on Motoring 2011 found that almost three-quarters of drivers had changed their driving behaviour due to cost. In particular almost half had cut down on journeys. When this is broken down the difference is again clear, with 42% of city dwellers cutting down on journeys compared with 58% in the countryside. Again it looks like those in rural communities are being hit the hardest.

With the Commission for Rural Communities saying that people in rural areas spend 20-30% more on transport, it's hardly surprising the cost of motoring is the top concern for rural drivers. 35% say this is the case, ahead of drink-driving (13%) and the state of the road (13%). And the rising cost of fuel is having an impact on ordinary, everyday activities that people would expect to do. 11% of rural drivers have given up taking their children to school or social activities and a further 23% would have to give up if fuel prices continued to rise. There is a similar story to be told with other activities:

Table 2: Day-to-day activities rural motorists have already given up or will have to give up if fuel costs continue to rise

table

The figures clearly show the detrimental impact high fuel prices are having on the car dependant rural community. Many are fighting hard to continue to do the day-to-day activities that should be the norm, but this is becoming harder and harder. And for many it is getting to the point where driving will soon become a luxury. Unsurprisingly more city dwellers (65%) believe motoring will become a luxury if fuel prices continue to rise than rural drivers (56%). For those in rural communities driving is a necessity and can never be regarded as a luxury, no matter how high fuel prices go.

Much of the blame for the high cost of motoring lies squarely at the door of politicians, with 76% of drivers believing they are treated as a cash cow by the Government. Much more should be done by the Government to help those struggling. Rising oil prices increases revenue from North Sea oil. In addition, rising fuel prices increases revenue from VAT. The Government needs to take a close look at this to see how they can use the increased revenue to help stabilise the price of fuel. High fuel prices are not only hitting motorists hard, particularly in rural communities, they're also hurting business and hurting the prospects of recovery

The spiralling cost of motoring has clearly seen many change their driving and commuting habits, which, ultimately, is having a positive effect on the environment - although to the detriment of the many who are dependent on their cars. However this is certainly using the stick approach rather than the carrot to lessen the environmental damage caused by cars. According to the RAC Report on Motoring 2011, 7% or less cited environmental reasons as the main driver for making changes in how they get from a to b. These include cycling and walking more, using public transport more and car sharing.

It's concerning, but not surprising, that the environment is so low down on drivers concerns. However oil isn't going to last forever and more needs to be done to engage motorists with alternatively fuelled vehicles. Manufacturers are producing more of these cars but the take up is still low. Statistics from the RAC Report on Motoring show that there are still many issues in drivers' minds, especially when it comes to electric vehicles. Price is still a key factor with 49% stating they need to be cheaper before considering buying one - and that's with the government subsidies. 36% want to see more charging points and 35% have 'range anxiety' and want them to be able to travel further on a full charge. Interestingly, 30% want to see evidence that they are cheaper to run.

Again we see a clear difference between city and rural dwellers. The statistics show the issues concerning electric vehicles are greater in the countryside with 37% concerned about the vehicles range compared with 25% in the city. Also 36% of rural drivers want to see more charging points compared with 30% of city drivers. Again, these statistics are hardly surprising given that electric vehicle are predominantly for city driving. However, it does show the level of work that needs to be done to fully engage with those in rural communities - the ones who are being hit hardest by the rising cost of motoring.

Interest in alternatively fuelled vehicles is there though, with 25% saying they will look to buy such a vehicle the next time they're in the market for a new car. This is certainly a positive start with further room for improvement. Also, 49% said they will be looking to buy a car with lower emissions, which is also good news for the environment. Car manufacturers are constantly producing new, more fuel efficient vehicles with lower emissions. This is helping to improve the environmental impact of driving and needs to be considered alongside alternative fuels when discussing the future of motoring.

However, ultimately cost is the major issue when it comes to purchasing new vehicles with 63% looking to buy a cheaper vehicle to run. Obviously this will help reduce CO2 emissions in the long run but again it's clear that financial reasons outweigh environmental concerns.

The RAC Report on Motoring 2011 does highlight the difference between rural and urban driving. Those who live in the countryside have a greater need for a car - without them they'd struggle to do their weekly shop, let alone visit friends and family. With limited choice when it comes to public transport - and that choice is getting even more limited - many rural drivers are dependent on their cars. With the cost of motoring rising, people are forced to make tough choices. But it's clear the one choice they can't make is to get rid of their car - without it they'll become isolated and unable to do the things most of us take for granted.

The RAC Report on Motoring, now in its 23rd year, is a comprehensive annual survey of a cross-section of UK motorists to establish their views on a wide range of motoring issues. For more details on the report then please go to www.rac.co.uk/report-on-motoring/report-2011/

*Keeping the Nation Moving - RAC Foundation