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Grey fleet warning as shift away from public transport continues

Public transport

People in a post-pandemic world will continue to avoid public and shared transport, potentially increasing grey fleet use and impacting the wider mobility market, new research suggests.

The study, from the Capgemini Research Institute, shows a huge shift in attitude away from travelling by public transport and car share.

When in 10 major countries it asked more than 10,000 people in April 2020, close to the start of the pandemic, whether they would choose their car over public transport, less than half (44%) of respondents said ‘yes’.

That had increased to 78% by November, with similar trends seen in people’s attitudes towards the use of car-pool services, such as car clubs and ridehailing services.

In the UK, just 8% of people see buses, trains and trams as their primary means of transport, compared with 21% before the pandemic.

Four-in-five (81%) said they would avoid using car-pool services owing to health and safety concerns – up from 42% – and 78% added they would steer clear of ride-hailing services, an increase on 40% when the first lockdown was introduced.

Furthermore, 87% of respondents said their safety was best served through their own vehicle, significantly higher than the 57% seen in the first survey.

John Webb, principal consultant at Lex Autolease, said people are particularly wary of rail travel. “We’re getting clear signals from all sectors that working life is never going to be the same again in terms of travel,” he said.

However, what that actually means for employers remains to be seen in a post-pandemic world.

“You have to look at how much business is going to change,” Webb said. “How much individual perceptions have changed – the actual risk as opposed to the real risk.”

REVIEW TRAVEL POLICIES

He is urging employers to review their travel policies to ensure they reflect employees’ concerns.

“There are going to be scenarios where previously you would have said for this journey ‘you’re going to have to get the train’,” he said.

However, if employees say they do not feel safe travelling by rail, the employer will need to adapt its travel policies.

“The potential there is to create pressure on the grey feet,” continued Webb. “That creates challenges, because grey fleet emissions are reportable under the SECR (Streamlined Energy and Carbon Reporting scheme) and so there is more accountability on organisations to manage grey fleet emissions.”

New data from the Department for Transport (DfT) shows during the latest lockdown, rail use has fallen to about 14% of usual levels – it has never been higher than 43% since the start of the pandemic.

Meanwhile, the London Underground is currently carrying approximately 18% of its expected passenger numbers and has never exceeded 45% since the first lockdown was introduced.

Peter Golding, managing director at FleetCheck, says the Capgemini research should set alarm bells ringing for fleet managers.

“Grey fleet already outnumbers conventional company cars by a ratio of around six-to-one and this research indicates that proportion could increase over the next year,” he said.

“This will have all kinds of implications for employers – ranging from potentially greater demand for at-work parking through to a need to upgrade (grey fleet) safety inspection procedures.”

The Capgemini report – Shifting gears: Covid-19 and the fast-changing automotive consumer – showed that 45% of people are now planning on buying their own vehicle within the next 12 months compared with 27% last April.

That could result in employees choosing a used, higher-polluting vehicle, or provide an opportunity for the company car market, particularly through salary sacrifice schemes.

YOUNG MORE INTERESTED IN CARS

Of particular note was a growing interest in car ownership from younger people (aged 18-35), with 59% considering buying a car in the next 12 months, up from 40% in April.

The pandemic has focused more attention on infection risk, and this is changing the way people think about accessing a car for mobility.

With a car subscription, for instance, consumers enjoy a short-term and economical solution to their mobility needs while enjoying the protection from infection that a car offers over other mobility options.

In the UK, fewer than one-in-five consumers (18%) said they would subscribe to a car and 21% would prefer to lease one. Three-in-five respondents (61%) said they would prefer to buy.

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