The COVID-19 pandemic has profoundly affected many aspects of our lives over recent months, and transport is no exception. Under lockdown, many of us weren’t travelling much if at all, and even now that restrictions are easing, the ways in which we get from A to B are still impacted.

Figures cited by the International Energy Agency (IEA) revealed that the London Underground saw a 95 per cent fall in passenger journeys during lockdown, while the Citymapper Mobility Index suggests that in many of the world’s major cities, public transport trips have fallen by around 90 per cent since the crisis began. With infection remaining a threat in the UK, many people are avoiding public transport where possible.

At LeaseCar, we wanted to take an in-depth look at how transport habits and preferences have changed in the UK as a result of COVID-19 – specifically, how people view travelling in their own vehicles versus using public transport. To find out, we polled 400 British drivers. Here’s what we discovered.

Own transport favoured by the vast majority

Perhaps unsurprisingly, many respondents expressed a preference for their own cars above mass transit options. Of the people we surveyed, more than nine in 10 (92 per cent) said they feel more comfortable travelling in their own vehicles rather than by public transport. Only five per cent reported feeling more comfortable on public transport, while a cautious three per cent said they don’t feel comfortable with either option.

Most of those who said they prefer to use their own vehicles post-lockdown identified safety as the reason for this, with many respondents expressing concern over the risk of coming into contact with others while using public transport.

However, not everyone was focussed on the potential health risks of using buses, trains, the underground and so on. Many respondents also cited the extra convenience of using their own vehicles as the reason why they prefer to drive, while greater reliability and speed also motivated many of those we polled. Some people stated that they use their cars because of a lack of availability of public transport in their area.

Among the minority who said they would prefer to use public transport post-lockdown, environmental and cost concerns were both given as reasons.

Changing the daily commute

It remains to be seen what, if any, lasting effects the pandemic will have on people’s daily commutes to work. However, it’s possible that some people who previously didn’t use their cars to make these journeys will have made the switch away from public transport to private vehicles. Nearly four in 10 survey participants (38 per cent) said they use their vehicles primarily for commuting. This compared with 28 per cent who revealed they mainly use their cars for family activities and 23 per cent who said they generally use their vehicles for leisure activities.

Drivers taking health precautions when they travel

Even though many people currently see driving as a safer option, motorists are still keen to take precautions to help minimise the danger of contracting COVID-19. When asked which items they are likely to keep in their vehicles while travelling, 87 per cent of respondents said they would have hand sanitiser with them and 85 per cent said they would take a mask. Nearly half (45 per cent) stated they would be likely to keep disposable gloves in their vehicle.

Vehicle care during lockdown

During lockdown, many people weren’t using their cars at all, and if they were, this was generally only for short, essential journeys. However, this didn’t seem to stop motorists from giving their vehicles a little TLC. Nearly two-thirds of the people we polled (65 per cent) said they washed their cars over this period, while almost as many (60 per cent) vacuumed their vehicles.

Eleven per cent of drivers took vehicle care a step further by updating the gadgets in their cars during lockdown, while eight per cent made adaptations to their motors.

Can we expect lasting changes?

At this stage, while there remains a risk of COVID-19 transmission, it is impossible to know what the lasting effects of the pandemic will be on our travelling habits. Will people continue to favour their cars over public transport in such great numbers after the threat of the virus has been removed, or will confidence in bus, train and other transport services start to rise? According to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, the restrictions that are currently in place, including physical distancing rules, mean public transport systems will only be able to function at 15 to 35 per cent capacity compared to pre-pandemic levels. Particularly as more people start to return to work following lockdown, this limited public transport capacity combined with fears over using these services could see many more people rely on private vehicles.

But as restrictions ease, will people flock back to mass transit systems or will their behaviour be altered on a more long-term basis? The IEA notes that demand for public transport recovered relatively quickly in the countries affected in the early 2000s by the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) crisis. For example, in the Taiwanese capital Taipei, underground trips decreased by half during the peak of the crisis, but they recovered within four months after the outbreak was brought under control. However, according to the IEA, the scale and nature of the COVID-19 crisis could result in “larger and longer lasting effects on mobility patterns”.

Indeed, it may take months or even years to understand the full impact the pandemic will have on transport across the UK.