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Road congestion sees sharp increase as Covid restrictions ease

Image credit: Dreamstime

Transport usage surged this morning as further Covid-19 restrictions were lifted across England.

After months of closure, businesses including hairdressers, bars and non-essential shops were finally allowed to reopen, meaning thousands workers needed to travel into work while shoppers could return to the high street once more.

Satellite mapping firm TomTom reported that road journeys in London took around 42 per cent longer than free flowing traffic at 8am this morning compared to 32 per cent last week after the Easter Bank Holiday. This compares to an average of 63 per cent at the start of the working week in 2019 pre-pandemic.

Other cities also experienced travel time increases in the same period including Brighton (22 to 28 per cent), Birmingham (22 to 27 per cent), Bristol (25 to 33 per cent), Manchester (27 to 37 per cent) and Leeds (23 to 51 per cent).

Lockdown restrictions are not planned to be entirely lifted until 21 June at the earliest, so peak traffic conditions are not expected to return until at least then.

But dramatic shifts in the way people work and travel during the Covid-19 lockdowns are expected to continue to some degree even once the virus threat has been mitigated.

An explosion in home working, as well as a dramatic increase in cycling, could see public transport passenger numbers not reach pre-pandemic levels for some time.

However, last summer, when restrictions were at their most relaxed, car usage returned back to normal levels until November when a further lockdown was introduced. Many people opted to drive instead of take trains and buses to reduce their risk of exposure to the virus.

From today, drivers will also be subject to several new rule changes including an increase in road tax for those driving vehicles with higher CO2 emissions as well as stricter rules governing mobile phone usage at the wheel.

Stephanie Leonard, head of traffic innovation and policy at TomTom, said: “This morning’s data shows a significant increase in traffic congestion on the roads, a sign that Covid-19 rules have eased across England.

“This could demonstrate that while we are slowly beginning to return back to normality with non-essential retail opening, driving still remains the chosen choice of transport as we continue to navigate through the pandemic.”

International travel is also expected to take a hit, with a new poll showing that nearly half of business travellers are planning to cut the number of flights they take compared to before the pandemic.

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