Commuting jobs drive rail passenger growth
THE total number of people who made a journey by rail in 201214 was 79% higher than in 1996-98, according to a report commissioned by the Independent Travel Commission (ITC).
However, the average length of trip for a specific travel purpose has fallen by 1.5 miles to 30.5 miles in the same period. And there has been a 7% decline in the average miles travelled per year per rail ‘trip-maker’, to 6,381.
Wider Factors affecting the long-term growth in Rail Travel, written by Ian Williams and Kaveh Jahanshahi, says job growth in England and Wales in sectors which traditionally attract a high proportion of rail commuters may have contributed to the increase.
These include the likes of information and communication services, scientific and technical work, and real estate services almost doubling between 1996 and 2018. The report’s authors estimate that job growth in professional, scientific and technical work has created an additional 190,000 rail commuters, while employment increases in information and communication services have led to an extra 90,000 commuters.
Another factor highlighted is a 49% increase in the number of jobs in London since 1995 (compared with an overall average across England and Wales of 27%), and that sectors that have experienced rapid growth have also done so in London.
The overall 27% employment growth figures has created an increase in the number of rail commuters of at least 41%. However, the report adds that the calculation “is likely to underestimate significantly” the full contribution to rail commuting growth that results from changing trends in employment location.
Changes in where people live could also have driven rail passenger growth. The report found that since the 1990s population growth has been most rapid in dense urban areas, and that people of working age are now more likely to live in such locations rather than in rural areas - making commuting by car less attractive than rail in some places.
In rural areas, every extra 100 resident commuters generates 62 extra car commuters and six rail commuters. In the Dense London band, the same number of extra resident commuters creates 51 car commuters and 49 rail commuters.
Increased home-working has also had a significant impact in reducing weekly commuter trips by rail, with the authors arguing that it will likely contribute to a future decline in peak period rail use.
Growth in the number of business trips by rail was not due to individual rail travellers making more trips, but rather an increase in the number of workers making business trips by rail.
This has been accelerated by rapid growth in office-based employment sectors, changes in company car taxation, and a rapid decline in car ownership in dense urban areas - the report adds that those in households without cars
are three times more likely to make business trips by rail. It concludes that changes in employment structure alone have resulted in 38% growth in rail business journeys.
In assessing the future of rail demand, the report concludes that while the factors it explores are largely external to the operation of the rail industry, they have a major impact on demand. It also points out that while it has examined factors independently, in reality “they are often heavily intertwined”, and that while some factors did not support rail growth in the 1980s, this started to change in the mid-1990s.
However, it warns that while policies that influence levels of car ownership, road congestion, employment patterns and the locations of jobs and housing may have contributed to the rise in passenger numbers, “it is not clear that those influences would necessarily continue to support rail growth”.
The report points out that a surge in people moving to rural locations, or structural changes in the economy leading to a decline in office-based employment or growth in manufacturing, could revert to the situation before the 1990s where passenger demand was in gradual decline.
It recommends that wider influences on demand are considered to provide better longterm forecasts and responsiveness to policy measures; that planning and land use policy changes should be examined for their likely influence on travel patterns and rail demand; and that data collection and processing are improved to make it easier to understand the impact of spatial and industrial changes on passenger numbers.
Network Rail Chairman and ITC patron Sir Peter Hendy said: “The ITC’s report illustrates the importance of joined-up policy making if we are to continue to enjoy the renaissance in rail usage that has been such a feature of the last two decades.”
ITC Director Dr Matthew Niblett added: “A shift towards a knowledge-based economy has clearly shaped the contemporary railway passenger boom. While rail investment has accelerated since privatisation, it is clear that the growth in passenger numbers is also down to factors beyond the rail industry’s control.
“With Brexit on the horizon, an industrial strategy developing, and a housing shortage in the South East and London continuing, it’s important that economic and planning challenges are considered alongside transport policy, as is the case with the East West Rail and Northern Powerhouse Rail projects.”