|Car Dependence in Rural Scotland|
John Farrington, David Gray, Suzanne Martin & Deborah Roberts
University of Aberdeen
|For environmental reasons, Government transport policy is currently directed at encouraging a shift away from the car as the dominant means of travel to more sustainable, alternative modes. Policies directed at increasing the costs of car use, for example by increasing fuel prices, may impact disproportionately on different sectors of the population. Recognising the importance of the car in facilitating economic and social life in rural Scotland, The Scottish Office commissioned the Department of Geography at Aberdeen University to undertake research on the nature of car dependence and the possible implications of increasing the costs of car use. The research was conducted in 1997 in five contrasting study areas of rural Scotland - Wigtownshire in Dumfries and Galloway, north-west Sutherland, Lewis, western Aberdeenshire and East Lothian.|
- 89% of households in rural Scotland have access to a car and cars were used for 76.5% of all journeys.
- Isolation from services appears to be the strongest determinant of car ownership, with even the least affluent in the remotest areas running a car.
- Income is also an important indicator of car use. More affluent households made more of their journeys by car, and used their cars for longer trips than those in lower income groups. Of rural households without access to a car 80% earned less than £10,000 a year.
- Many rural dwellers without regular access to a car are still dependent on friends' or relatives' cars for travel to work and, particularly, the supermarket.
- A distinction exists between those who are dependent on their cars because there are no viable alternatives (structural dependence), and those who rely on their vehicle but could realistically undertake their journeys by alternatives (conscious dependence).
- An increase in the cost of motoring will have a minimal impact on a majority of households in rural Scotland because of affluence, proximity to shops, services and employment, or overall lack of travel. Other households may react in ways which are in step with wider environmental objectives; cutting down on non-essential journeys; purchasing a more fuel efficient car; dispensing with an unnecessary vehicle; or using public transport more regularly. Households in the most isolated areas, who are structurally dependent on the car, could however struggle to absorb the additional cost in the short to medium term and face a reduced quality of life in the long term.
The objectives of the research were: to investigate the processes which influence household and individual decision-making affecting car ownership and use; to explore mobility and spending patterns related to car ownership and use; to measure the degree of car dependence in rural Scotland by relating car use to existing and potential public transport alternatives, social attributes and reasons for using the car; and to assess policy implications and options for the rest of the decade and beyond, in light of the findings of the research.
The study included a postal questionnaire survey of 1000 people living in five case study areas in rural Scotland selected to represent a range of rural circumstances - Wigtownshire in Dumfries & Galloway, north-west Sutherland, Lewis (excluding Stornoway), western Aberdeenshire and East Lothian. This was followed by in-depth interviews, travel diaries and focus groups in each area to explore the decision-making process in respect to travel behaviour at household and individual level.
Cars and Rural Scotland
Dependence on the car is stronger in rural Scotland than in other rural parts of the UK, and cars are regarded as a fundamental necessity by the majority of households who rely on this mode for the bulk of their travel.
Some 88.8% of households in rural Scotland have access to a car, a higher proportion than the UK as a whole. The car is the mode which is normally used by the majority of people for accessing work, shops, services, and social and leisure destinations. Cars were used for 76.5% of all journeys, a higher proportion than that recorded in other studies. Walking was the second most important mode, accounting for 17.5% of journeys, while only a small proportion of people normally depend on public transport. Those in more isolated areas make a higher proportion of their journeys by car than those living nearer to shops, employment and services.
Car Ownership and Use
Isolation from services and household income are important factors in levels of car ownership and car use. Isolation from services appears to be the strongest determinant of car ownership, with even the least affluent in the remotest areas running a car. However, because few people live in really rural areas, the overall numbers in this group are likely to be relatively small. Those in the most peripheral study area, Sutherland, made more journeys, travelled further, spent longer travelling, and made more of their journeys by car than those elsewhere, and respondents from this area also exhibited the strongest attachment to their car.
Income was also an important indicator of car use. Those in more affluent income bands made more of their journeys by car, and used their cars for longer trips than those in lower income groups. The most affluent groups also enjoyed higher levels of car ownership, were unlikely to have disposed of a car without replacing it, and perceived their cars to be more essential to their lives than those on lower incomes. A study of car dependence by The Oxford Transport Studies Group suggested that lifestyle and car dependence evolve together. However, income is an important factor influencing access to a car. Eighty percent of rural households without access to a car earned less than £10,000 a year. Low income groups also own older, smaller cars, are more ambivalent about their car use and are much more likely to have disposed of a car without replacing it, indicating that car dependence is a much more dynamic and fluctuating state for the least affluent.
Although there were no differences in number of journeys, men make a higher proportion of their journeys by car, and their car journeys are significantly longer than women's.
Patterns of Car Use
The case studies demonstrated the considerable diversity among households in terms of how cars are used. Again, isolation was important. Those living near shops, services and urban areas enjoyed greater diversity of mode and destination and flexibility of journey making, and could make more of their trips on foot, while those living in more peripheral or removed locales were much more constrained in their mobility, choice of mode, and frequency of journey making.
However, there were certain commonalities in rural car use. Travelling to a supermarket by car was a journey common to virtually all those interviewed, regardless of location, affluence or remoteness. Having a car was often regarded as crucial to attaining and maintaining employment, and in the most peripheral areas, car sharing for shopping and employment was prevalent. Consequently, many rural dwellers without regular access to a car are still dependent on friends' or relatives' cars for these sorts of journeys. Many young people also depend on lifts from parents for a certain proportion of their travel, and there was variation among participants in terms of how much they relied on these and how willing their parents were to oblige. Some young people therefore, are more constrained in their mobility than others.
Although the most aged are reliant on friends and relatives for mobility, many elderly people still drive but are actually less reliant on the car after retirement, having reduced their driving commitments and/ or taken advantage of subsidised bus fares.
Non car users and public transport
The majority of non-car owning households live in and around small towns and villages, close to shops, services, and employment. Public transport is little used by the majority of people in rural Scotland. Overall, less than 10% of rural people use the bus once a week or more, and buses were used for only 2.2% of journeys. However, a minority of respondents - either lacking regular access to a car or seeking an alternative - were perfectly happy to use the bus, generally where there was a satisfactory service and a short journey distance. In Lewis, where such conditions exist throughout the island, bus use was significantly higher. Bus patronage is inversely related to income, and the highest levels of bus use are among the young, who are unwilling users of this mode, and the elderly who qualify for cheap travel.
However, due to lack of provision and flexibility, many rural dwellers are unwilling or unable to consider public transport as an alternative. Specific reported problems with public transport included absence of service, lack of frequency of service, length of journey time, lack of service to preferred destinations, and concerns about comfort, space and security.
A distinction was made between those who are dependent on their cars because there are no viable alternatives (structural dependence), and those who rely on their vehicle but could realistically undertake their journeys by alternative modes (conscious dependence) .
The most isolated households were structurally dependent on the car. In terms of remoteness, a distinction was made between households which may have been relatively close to urban centres but which were removed from bus routes, and those in the most peripheral regions where bus services are either non-existent, or not a realistic alternative due to diseconomies of time and distance. Other rural households were structurally dependent where a bus service existed, but was not flexible enough in terms of services and destinations to sustain the mobility requirements of the household.
Many rural drivers consciously depend on the car because they can afford it, because of the freedom , flexibility, perceived cost benefits and privacy which cars afford, and often because they simply enjoy driving
Structural and conscious car dependence occur within a prevailing wider social ideology which favours car use. This cultural aspect of car use was evident at the household level in terms of actual travel behaviour and in interviewees' justification of their travel behaviour.
As a result of media coverage of rural transport 'problems', rural people 'know the script'. This is reflected in drivers' attitudes towards their car use; driving in rural areas is portrayed as essential, and drivers rarely acknowledged the social cost of their own motoring, blaming air pollution solely on urban drivers. Bus provision was rarely discussed favourably.
Transport policy : reactions and evaluations
Given the central place which cars occupy in the collective consciousness, any policy designed to make driving less convenient or more expensive will be strongly resisted, regardless of whether households would be significantly affected or not.
There was evidence to suggest that ongoing fuel pricing in some rural areas, allied to the lack of perceived public transport alternatives, was regarded as i) having a detrimental effect on the quality of life, ii) impacting on the local economy, and iii) constraining the unemployed from securing work.
However, it is difficult to estimate the precise impact of increases in the cost of motoring on rural households. Analysis of fuel price elasticities suggest that it would take a large and sustained increase in costs to effect a significant long term change of behaviour. Indeed, for reasons of affluence, proximity to shops, services and employment, and overall lack of travel, an increase in the cost of motoring will have a minimal impact on a majority of households in rural Scotland. Households who are less able to respond to price rises through isolation, greater travel needs, or lower disposable incomes may react to significant fuel price increases in ways which can be thought of as being in step with wider environmental objectives; cutting down on non-essential journeys; purchasing a more fuel efficient car; dispensing with an unnecessary vehicle; or using public transport more regularly. The reactions of a significant minority of marginal households may have more serious implications. Households in the most isolated areas, who are structurally dependent on the car, who have a high mileage, and who may be among middle to low income groups could struggle to absorb the additional cost in the short to medium term and face a reduced quality of life in the long term. This would involve enduring greater financial hardship, or disposing of a necessary vehicle with associated concerns for employment and housing.
Focus groups were used to explore participants' understanding and evaluations of various transport policy measures.
There was homogeneous dissatisfaction with all the measures aimed at making driving more expensive or less convenient (policy sticks), The exception was urban driving restraints. Fuel pricing produced the strongest reaction in the focus groups. It was ranked as the least popular measure, and perceived as threatening the sustainability of rural life. However, there was little opposition to the principle of fuel pricing per se, but strong concern about the fact that rural areas already endure higher fuel prices, and fuel pricing was regarded as an isolation tax.
In terms of measures aimed at providing alternatives to the car (policy carrots), the perceptions about these were much more heterogeneous, reflecting the individual conditions in each locality. In all but the most remote locales, groups ranked a cheaper and more frequent public transport service as the most important initiatives. Express services were thought to be of benefit for remoter areas, while suggested improvements for buses included the reintroduction of conductors and improved vehicle design to aid mothers with small children. Properly funded community dial-a-ride schemes were regarded as being more for the most isolated areas.
Locality is extremely important in people's accounts of rural travel and the concerns they report. Affluence, population density, and service and transport provision all vary, and correspondingly there are differences between places in terms of travel patterns, reliance on the car, the provision and use of alternatives, and respondents' travel experience and outlook. In the most isolated communities, absolute dependence on the car was reflected in a shared conviction that cars were indispensable, and local people felt extreme anger towards any policies which might make motoring more expensive.
Blanket fuel duty. The research suggests that increases would need to be large to have a significant effect on car use. As well as being very unpopular, large scale increases would have serious implications for low-income car users, particularly in remote areas. Such people could in effect be priced out of the countryside. Lack of alternatives to car use, and the higher fuel prices in rural areas, make fuel price increases particularly onerous.
Higher rural fuel prices. Such a pricing pattern does not reflect the view that the concentrations of atmospheric pollution caused by vehicle emissions are greater in urban areas. Removal of the zonal pricing policy and/or the introduction of urban fuel premiums would reflect the pattern of pollution more closely.
Vehicle emission taxation would tend to affect lower income households with cars most severely, since they tend to own older cars.
Engine size taxation may be progressive since poorer households tend to own smaller cars. However, it could bear more heavily on large families.
Abolition of vehicle excise duty (VED) and increased fuel prices would create difficulties, particularly for remote and low income households, because higher fuel prices already exist in rural areas and there are often few real transport alternatives. It has been found that both VED and fuel price increases would be regressive, but that VED increases would be significantly more so, impacting particularly on poorer and more remote rural car owning households.
Well focused urban-based measures appear to have the potential to reduce urban orientated car use while retaining the possibility of rural car use for all income groups. Hypothecation of revenues for public transport and other improvements would be important.
The research confirms that there are many different types of rural people. Most live in small towns and villages and in some senses do not have serious transport problems. But there are groups with significant actual or potential problems if car use/ownership is threatened by increased costs. These include the elderly, young mothers, job seekers, and those on low incomes, whose predicament is worsened if they are remote or removed from bus routes. Restraints on car use would have serious implications for the viability of rural life for such groups. These findings reinforce the well established presence of mobility-deprived groups without cars who are well known to be vulnerable to the loss of rural facilities because of their inability to adjust their life patterns. Increasing costs of car use could push low income car users into this group.
Given the Government's present commitment to annual real fuel duty increases, and the basic difficulty of providing real alternatives to car use in rural areas, it is appropriate to consider both conventional and unconventional measures which may help to ameliorate the effects of such price increases.
In view of the depth of feeling in rural areas about policies affecting mobility and car use, and the pertinence of developing local policy responses, it would be appropriate to incorporate some form of public participation in local policy planning.
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