Traffic levels during the morning rush hour in Britain have returned to those last seen in January, before the coronavirus pandemic hit, according to data from RAC Insurance.
However, it says that this is mainly due to the return of the school run, rather than commuters, with many workers continuing to work from home.
It says data from cars fitted with its black box devices show that average weekday traffic levels between 8am and 9am, from 7-16 September, were the same as in January, and up by 55% compared with the week beginning 24 August, before most schools returned.
At the other end of the day, the data shows that traffic levels for the 3pm to 4pm school run and the 5pm to 6pm rush hour are the same as before the first coronavirus lockdown in March.
The RAC says its daily breakdown figures also suggest a return to normal, with mid-week call-outs in particular only a little below those seen during the first few winter months of the year.
However, it notes that since schools returned, patrols have on average been called out to more rush-hour breakdowns than expected, with this being balanced out by fewer later in the day.
RAC Insurance spokesperson Rod Dennis said: “While schools reopening was always going to lead to a rise in vehicle traffic, the fact that between a fifth and a third of the UK workforce is still working remotely shows just what role the school drop-off plays in creating the phenomenon we know as the morning rush hour.
“In short, it appears dropping off children at schools and nurseries contributes far more to morning traffic in the 8am to 9am window than commuters heading to workplaces does, which is a surprising finding in itself.
“What’s abundantly apparent is how dependent parents are on the car for getting children to their places of study or play during the week – and with fewer people prepared to take public transport at the moment, the reliance on the car as the transport mode of choice has increased.
“Workers that used to drop children off and then carry on to offices or other workplaces are clearly still using their cars for these trips, but just returning home again instead. It may also be the case that many are opting for the car so they can be back at their desks to start work as promptly as possible.”
Dennis said that the ‘million-dollar question’ would be whether morning traffic levels continue to rise during the autumn, or remain at the current level.
He continued: “The rising number of coronavirus cases, together with the introduction of local lockdowns and the threat of new nationwide restrictions, may also have an impact on people’s willingness to return to public transport.
“But while there is a huge number of possible scenarios that have the potential to change our travel habits, what does appear clear is that millions of us will continue to rely on the car for completing the journeys we have to make.”