BBC's Inside Out doc to report on Peak Car & the bike boom

Carlton Reid
BBC's Inside Out doc to report on Peak Car & the bike boom

"Are we falling out of love with the car?" asks the BBC's Inside Out documentary at 7.30pm tonight.

"Richard Westcott looks at the latest transport research and asks whether some of us are changing the way we travel. What does it mean for the people who have to plan our transport networks?"

It means we won't need to build more and more multi-lane highways because demand for such eye-wateringly expensive infrastructure is falling.

Peak Car is now becoming more mainstream with the BBC only the latest to report on what could be happening on Britain's roads. Peak Car has also been extensively covered by The Times, The Economist, Scientific American, and BikeBiz.com.

The theory of Peak Car is a signifiant one for those who wish cities to be designed for people, not motor vehicles. If car use is declining - and official stats from US and UK bear this out, and it's not just because of the recession - there is less need to build expensive 'white elephant' highways for motor vehicles and more need to build wider pavements and instal bike lanes built to Dutch-standards.

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Transport expert Phil Goodwin, professor of Transport Policy at the University of the West of England discusses the Peak Car theory in the academic and transport press. Professor Goodwin is the transport academic retained to write up the report on the parliamentary inquiry on cycling, due to be staged in April 2013.

However, the RAC Foundation has commissioned its own report which disputes Peak Car, and the BBC will be featuring this research in tonight's documentary.

'On the Move: making sense of car and train travel trends in Britain' was co-sponsored by the Office of Rail Regulation, the Independent Transport Commission and Transport Scotland.

The study team was lead by Professor Peter Jones of University College London. In much of their work the researchers specifically excluded data from the recent recession so that short-term economic pressures did not mask long-term changes in travel patterns.

The researchers found little evidence of Peak Car, said a statement from the RAC Foundation.

"Once company car mileage was excluded, those aged 30 and over outside London actually increased their car travel right up to the 2007 recession. This group accounts for 70% of the British adult population."

But the RAC Foundation report couldn't avoid having to report that "in London, car mileage per person has fallen by about a third overall. But while company car mileage has dropped by 57%, private car use is down less at 24%."

Professor Stephen Glaister, director of the RAC Foundation, said:

“There has been much talk of ‘peak car’ – the idea that individual car use has reached a plateau – but strip out the one-off impact of a collapse in company car mileage and prior to the recession we were actually driving more.

“Let’s not forget about population growth. An extra ten million people are predicted for the UK over couple of decades and whatever we do individually will be dwarfed by the travel needs of these extra people.

“We must recognise that future transport demand will vary by time, place and demography. Every one of us has different transport needs and a simple one-size-fits-all approach will not work.”

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The Inside Out doc is regional, with 20 minutes of the programme produced nationally and nine minutes produced for each region where the programme is shown. Inside Out in the north east of England features cycling (I know this because I'm in it).  

Tags: bbc , peak car

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