Will the UK’s newfound love of walking go the distance?

Lucy Rands, Investment Manager at ETF Partners, explores new data from our portfolio company, TravelTime, which indicates that in 2020 there was a 1700% surge in travel searches by foot. According to Lucy, such a trend can have massive environmental benefits in a post-pandemic world.

It is fair to say that one of the most significant changes during the pandemic was in the way we travelled — to the extent we travelled at all. Obviously, most of us stayed at home, in line with government guidance, meaning curtailed public transport services. For instance, the London Underground operated at around 20% of its usual capacity at the pandemic’s height, with its buses at around 40% of normal service levels (reference 1). There were fewer overall trips, especially those of great distance, and many of us planned to holiday in the UK this summer, rather than abroad. In fact, UK holiday bookings were over 200% higher this year, and international flights have been drastically reduced (reference 2). Many decided to heed the Government’s advice to stay local, while we waited for more and more of the populace to be vaccinated.

As one might expect, our geospatial analytics portfolio company, TravelTime, recorded a significant drop in travel of all kinds during the pandemic. In particular, public transport searches were down around 40% in 2020 in the UK, as individuals chose to eschew communal transit options. While this in some cases led to a surge in private car use, there seems to be a new trend: the country has a newfound love for walking — which is good for us and the environment!

Over the course of 2020, TravelTime recorded an incredible 1,700% increase in walking searches compared to 2019. Wow! We as a nation are really getting our steps in!

Obviously, people’s fear of exposure to the virus, has led to shorter trips — which favours the walking option — and many preferred to be in the open air rather than in confined modes of transport. A few other factors may have coaxed us into our walking shoes — 2020 was a great year weather-wise, with the UK experiencing its sunniest spring since 1929 (reference 3). Plus, there was a significant increase in dog owners, with 2.2 million dogs purchased between March and September 2020 (reference 4) so plenty more of us taking our four-footed friends for a daily stroll.

For many reasons, walking is back in vogue. Now we just need to encourage that “movement” as we head to a new normal — post pandemic. Companies like TravelTime can help do that, by both promoting the walking options and encouraging us to do more. When looking for a new home, job or even a spot for dinner — walking-based alternatives should be highlighted! Showing how quick we can get somewhere with our own two feet would be great — and maybe even showing the CO2 we avoid emitting by leaving the car at home!

When tackling the climate emergency, a common obstacle is ensuring that positive, incremental change can be implemented at scale. If society embraced more walking over driving, these positive decisions when made by more of us can have a significant impact. Thanks to information provided by companies like TravelTime, that speak to the environmental (and health!) benefits of our choices, we can gather the information we need so that everyday decisions like going for a walk become a major step-change in the country’s efforts to reduce its emissions.

Author: Lucy Rands, Investment Manager, ETF Partners

  1. As reported by New York Times, 27 March, 2021
  2. As reported by This Is Money, 29 April, 2021
  3. Met Office data as reported by BBC News, 29 May 2020
  4. Direct Line data as reported by Financial Times, 18 December 2020

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