Private car use in the UK could fall by up to 10% in coming years if a long-term shift toward more homeworking takes hold in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, according to the country's National Infrastructure Commission.
Under a 'virtual local reality' scenario, where more workers shift from urban to rural areas due to remote working flexibility, public transport use could also fall by up to 25% and demand for energy, waste and water would slip by a single-digit percentage compared to pre-pandemic levels, the commission said in a report published May 13 into behavior changes and infrastructure after COVID-19.
After collapsing by up to 70% in early 2020, motor vehicle use has recovered much faster than public transport and the use of commercial vehicles even surpassed pre-COVID levels, the report noted, likely reflecting a surge in online shopping activity.
Concluding that it remained too early to assume transport use changes during the pandemic will play out in long-term behavior shifts, the commission, which advises the UK Government on infrastructure issues, said commercial transport use had actually risen during the UK's lockdowns from pre-pandemic levels.
"Car use has also recovered almost fully during months of reduced restrictions, but there has been no evidence of increased car ownership, which could indicate that people are not yet making decisions about long-term preferences," the report concluded.
Road transport accounts for more than half of oil demand in the UK, with diesel and gasoline meeting around 96% of transport energy needs.
Although diesel sales dominate the UK's transport fuel sector demand of 550,000 b/d, some 59% of cars on the UK's roads ran on gasoline in 2019 with 38% using diesel.
A continued shift to remote working and rural living will mean reduced commuting frequency but over longer distances and raises the potential for increased car traffic in towns and suburbs, the commission concludes.
Transport may also be affected by a long-term aversion to crowded spaces, causing people to avoid air travel or switch from public transport to cars, it said.
"Behavior change could make a significant difference to infrastructure demand for some sectors, but public surveys and initial responses as the UK edges out of COVID restrictions are not a reliable guide to shifts in mass behavior over the longer term," the commission said.
S&P Global Platts Analytics expects UK oil demand to grow by 97,000 b/d or 8% in 2021 after contracting by 340,000 b/d in 2020.
The UK's plan to ban sales of new internal combustion engine cars by 2030 could displace more than 60,000 b/d of refined motor fuels over the next 10 years, Platts Analytics estimates.