Current travel patterns
This section provides a brief summary of recent travel patterns in and around Coventry, including the places that people most commonly travel to and form and the modes of transport that they most commonly use.
3.1 Travel demand
In 2021 there were 345,000 people living in Coventry, an increase of 8.9% from 2011, meaning that it is growing more quickly than the UK average. A total of 161,000 people are employed in the city, while a further 66,000 are students in higher education.
This generates a significant level of travel demand, both within the city and to and from neighbouring areas. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, demand was particularly high during peak commuting hours, when large numbers of people travelled to and from the city from places like Nuneaton and Bedworth, Warwick, Rugby, Kenilworth, Royal Leamington Spa and Birmingham. However, the largest group of commuters were those who both live and work within Coventry. In 2011 it was estimated that 78,000 residents regularly commuted within the city.
Travel demand fell significantly during the Covid-19 pandemic and this particularly affected commuter journeys. The effects of this are still being felt now, even after the removal of all travel restrictions. For example, a TfWM survey showed that in Summer 2021 38 per cent of workers were still working entirely from home, with a further 25 per cent splitting their time between home and a place of work.
3.2 Current travel patterns by mode
Despite its compact nature, and relatively strong public transport network, Coventry is a city that is largely dominated by car travel.
Both the total number of cars owned by Coventry residents and the number of cars per household have been increasing steadily over the long-term. In recent years, the Council has encouraged residents to switch from petrol and diesel powered cars to electric, and other zero emission vehicles, including by installing more than 500 electric vehicle charge points – one of the largest public networks of charge points in the country.
Government statistics show that the number of electric vehicles in Coventry is increasing rapidly. However, they remain a small minority of the total. At the end of 2021 there were 1,164 battery electric vehicles registered to addresses in the city. When other forms of ultra-low emission capable vehicles, such as plug-in hybrids, are also included this figure rises to 1,905.
Regular counts of private and public transport trips into the centre of Coventry show that between 2011 and 2021 cars and taxis consistently accounted for around 75 - 80 per cent of both in-bound and out-bound trips. For commuter journeys, data from the Council’s regular household survey suggests that, both before and during the Covid-19 pandemic, around 70 per cent of commuter journeys made by Coventry residents were made by car (either as a driver or as a passenger).
The Council’s household survey also shows that residents believe that car is the easiest way to travel with, in 2021, 85 per cent of respondents agreeing that it was easy to get around Coventry that way. However, despite this view, congestion is common on the parts of the city’s road network, particularly during peak hours. Furthermore, the high volume of car trips also contributes heavily to the city’s carbon footprint, as well as creating air pollution and leading to around 600-700 casualties from road traffic accidents every year. These issues are discussed in more detail in section 4.
“The only convenient and safe way to travel is via a car”
“When there are more cars back on the road again, the sheer volume of traffic is just too much”
“Car traffic is terrible at peak times”
Let’s Talk survey respondents
While there were substantial falls in the number of people travelling during the Covid-19 pandemic, car travel did not fall as sharply as other modes during lockdowns and was quicker to recover afterwards. By June 2021, the total number of cars on the city’s roads had reached pre-Covid levels, albeit with less pronounced peaks during the morning and afternoon ‘rush hours’.
Motorcycles make up a very small proportion of traffic on the city’s roads. Government statistics show that at the end of 2021 there were 4,300 motorcycles registered to Coventry addresses. However, motorcyclists are disproportionally likely to be involved in serious and fatal road traffic accidents, while anecdotal feedback also suggests that they sometimes have difficulty accessing suitable and secure parking facilities.
The city is served by four railway stations (Coventry, Tile Hill, Canley and Coventry Arena) and has good rail connections to London, with (prior to the temporary emergency timetable introduced by Avanti West Coast in August 2022 as a result of a number of industry challenges) 3 high speed trains per hour from Coventry, and Birmingham, with 6 trains per hour from Coventry. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, passenger numbers were increasing steadily, with the Office of Rail and Road estimating that there were more than 9 million entries and exits across the city’s 4 stations in 2019/20.
The new £82 million station building and car park opened at Coventry Station in 2022, significantly improving the capacity of the station to handle passengers. The building also houses dedicated motorcycle and secure cycle parking as well as a new bus interchange with direct connections into the station concourse.
To maximise the benefits of this investment, there is significant scope to improve the city’s rail connectivity. For example, local services to Leamington, Kenilworth and Nuneaton currently only run once per hour, while the city has no direct rail links to the East Midlands at all. As a result, Midlands Connect estimate that only 3 per cent of trips between Coventry and Leicester are made by rail. This compares to 30 per cent of trips between Coventry and Birmingham.
A number of studies are underway, led by Network Rail, Midlands Connect and the West Midlands Rail Executive, to examine the case for further investment in the West Midlands rail network, over and above the ongoing investment in HS2. These include consideration of infrastructure improvements and new stations needed to enhance the role that rail can play in getting people to, and around, the city of Coventry.
“Good railway links to London and Birmingham, and thus to the rest of the UK from these nodes”
“The frequency of trains in and out of Coventry might be increased, for instance to Nuneaton and other places where people who live in Coventry… work”
“Although rail services are much improved compared to 20-30 years ago, much still needs to be done in terms of providing services direct to more destinations”
Let’s Talk survey respondents
The city also has an extensive network of bus services and, prior to Covid-19, levels of patronage had remained broadly consistent in recent years, with over 250 million bus journeys being taken annually across the West Midlands. The city’s bus network is largely based on a series of radial routes which connect the city centre to various residential and employment centres. Longer distance services also connect it to neighbouring conurbations including, for example, Nuneaton, Bedworth, Solihull and Birmingham. National Express coach services also provide connections to other UK-wide destinations.
There are some challenges regarding the reliability of services, which can be affected by congestion on the road network, and the frequency of services on some routes, particularly outside of peak hours. The radial nature of the city’s bus network also means that many passengers need to travel into the city centre in order to change buses. This often leads to longer journey times that make bus services uncompetitive, compared to travelling by car. Furthermore, disabled residents, particularly wheelchair users, have raised concerns about difficulties accessing services.
“Bus services are generally good, but need a more regular service outside peak times”
“The bus network, whilst the coverage is good, doesn’t always perform reliably”
“Bus routes are generally good but certain journeys across the city are slow because of (the) need to go via (the) city centre and change”
“Buses do not have enough seating for passengers that are wheelchair users”
Let’s Talk survey respondents
Working with TfWM, the City Council has recently introduced a new kind of bus service with no fixed route or timetable. The service, called WM On Demand, operates in a similar way to ride hailing services like Uber but with larger vehicles, allowing passengers’ journeys to be aggregated. The current WM On Demand service is a trial which covers about half of the city. In early 2022, the trial service was completing around 600 rides a week.
During the pandemic, the sharpest falls in travel demand were seen on public transport. During the initial lockdown in March 2020 bus patronage dropped to around 10 per cent of pre-Covid levels and rail to around 2 per cent. At the time of publication, these still have not fully recovered and were both typically around 10 – 20 per cent lower than pre-pandemic levels, reducing revenue from ticket sales and making it harder to maintain pre-pandemic service levels. Furthermore, the after effects of the pandemic have also created industry-wide challenges, including driver shortages, which are further affecting the reliability of some services.
The Council has supported the WMCA in promoting an Enhanced Partnership Plan and Scheme, which will set the framework for the future delivery of bus services within the region, setting out the required standards expected of bus companies, local authorities and the WMCA in delivering bus services and supporting infrastructure. This includes a requirement that all bus services operating within the city after 2025 will be operated by electric buses.
The Council has also supported the development of the WMCA’s Bus Service Improvement Plan, submitted to Government in June 2022. This has led to the award of an indicative £88 million in funding for bus service improvements within the region, which is particularly important given the pressures on bus services outlined above.
Walking and cycling
Although Coventry is a relatively compact city, the number of people walking and cycling for local journeys is not as high as it could be.
While data from the Council’s household survey suggests that many residents walk when escorting children to school (42 per cent) or travelling to their own place of education (31 per cent), in 2021 only 9 per cent of commuters travelled to work on foot.
Levels of cycling are particularly low, accounting for only around 1 per cent of journeys into the centre of Coventry and between 1 and 4 per cent of residents’ journeys when they are commuting, escorting children to school or travelling to their own place of education.
A lack of convenient and safe routes for cyclists is likely to be a barrier to higher levels of uptake. In 2021 only 52 per cent of residents agreed that it was easy to travel around Coventry by bike. This is significantly fewer than the number who felt it was easy to walk, drive and travel on public transport.
Prior to current investment in new cycle routes, the existing cycle network in Coventry is variable in standard, and where off-road routes are provided these are typically shared with pedestrians
“Coventry is a city (where) you can cycle to most places quite quickly but the roads don’t feel very safe for cyclists”
“Getting around Coventry by bicycle is not a pleasant or safe feeling thing to do”
Let’s Talk survey respondents
Over recent years there has been an increase in the number of goods vehicles on our roads, especially light goods vehicles. This is in keeping with national trends driven by the increasing use of home delivery services, which accelerated during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Heavy goods vehicles account for around 2 per of journeys into and out of the centre of Coventry. However, higher volumes can be observed in some parts of the city, depending on the nature of the local businesses that are located there. These trips therefore also need to be accommodated in a sustainable way, and with minimal impact on the surrounding community. The use of local roads by heavy goods vehicles is a frequent complaint from local communities, and it can be challenging to ensure that such vehicles take the most appropriate route.