With Mayoral Elections fast-approaching in both London and the West Midlands, candidates across the country are outlining their plans to protect the environment and combat the pervasive problems of congestion and pollution. In our latest polls, we examined the issue of car use in London and the West Midlands: how it differs between the two regions, and how residents view proposals to curb car use in their areas. Our research finds that that 57% of respondents in London say they own a car, compared to 70% across all of Great Britain. In the West Midlands, 70% say they own a car, broadly reflecting the national proportion.
The majority (60%) of car-owners in Great Britain say their current car is powered by petrol, and 29% say theirs is powered by diesel. The proportion who drive hybrid (7%) or electric (3%) cars is minimal—but just as many respondents say it is likely (36%) as those who say it is unlikely (36%) that their next vehicle will be an electric car.
Among car-owners, a greater proportion of those that live in the West Midlands (78%) than in London (69%) say they use their car daily or almost daily, though this figure represents a large majority of respondents in each region. The share of West Midlands car-owners who use their car daily or almost daily is in line with the figure for all British car-owners (77%).
Our research also finds that West Midlands residents are more likely than Londoners to use cars as their primary mode of transportation for a range of activities. A plurality of respondents who live in the West Midlands say they most often drive their own car (rather than walking, cycling, or taking public transport) to go food shopping (44%), visit a museum (43%), see a friend who lives on the other side of the West Midlands (48%), and attend a work or similar meeting (43%). The only activity where a plurality of West Midlanders say walking is their preferred mode of transport is going to the pub (33%).
Meanwhile, in London, a plurality says they would most often walk to go food shopping (46%) and to the pub (36%), and that they would most often take the tube to visit a museum (42%), see a friend who lives on the other side of London (44%), and attend a work or similar meeting (29%). When it comes to traveling to London for West Midlands residents (43%) or traveling outside of London for Londoners (41%), pluralities say they would take the tube or train rather than drive (26% and 27%).
The relatively less frequent use of cars in the capital is likely a result of lower car ownership overall and London’s more extensive public transport network. It also could be related to the Congestion Zone, Low Emission Zone, and Ultra Low Emission Zone charges that exist in London to reduce traffic, particularly targeting high-polluting vehicles.
A similar model will soon arrive in the West Midlands, with the implementation of a Clean Air Zone in Birmingham starting from June 2021. Like the Low and Ultra Low Emission Zones in London, vehicles which do not have clean enough engines will have to pay a daily charge if they travel within the area. When West Midlands residents were asked about this upcoming policy, 46% say they support the Birmingham Clean Air Zone, 29% neither support nor oppose, and 21% oppose it.
A plurality of both car-owners (45%) and those who do not own cars (49%) say they support the Clean Air Zone, while the same is also true for 2019 Conservative voters (47%) and Labour voters (50%).
Overall, 42% of West Midlands residents think the Clean Air Zone in Birmingham will be effective at reducing pollution, whereas 28% think it will be ineffective. Meanwhile, 31% say they don’t know. A similar proportion of respondents who own a car (42%) and who do not own a car (41%) say it will be effective at reducing pollution.
Birmingham does not currently have a Congestion Charge similar to London’s, whereby all drivers must pay a daily £15 charge if they drive within the Congestion Charge Zone in central London. 36% of West Midlands respondents say they would support introducing a similar Congestion Charge in the West Midlands, representing a slight plurality but still comprising a smaller proportion than the 46% who support the Clean Air Zone. 34% would alternatively oppose a Congestion Charge, including 37% of car owners.
The considerable opposition to a Congestion Charge may be related to the fact that West Midlands residents are split on whether a Congestion Charge would be effective (35%) or ineffective (35%) at reducing the number of cars in their local area. Furthermore, almost half (48%) of respondents say congestion is a minor problem in their area, or not at all a problem (24%), rather than a major problem (28%).
Meanwhile, some in London have suggested expanding the Congestion Charge Zone to encompass all of Greater London, a measure about which Londoners lack a consensus: 41% of Londoners say they would oppose, and 32% say they would support a daily charge for all drivers entering Greater London, whereas a quarter (23%) would neither support nor oppose. Car-owners (45%) in London are particularly opposed to such a charge when compared to non-car-owners (33%).
Car use evidently differs considerably between London and the West Midlands, which can largely be explained by the differences between the two regions at large. Car ownership and use on a regular basis is higher in the West Midlands than in London, where residents are encouraged not to drive by the widespread public transport network and discouraged by traffic and by charges on drivers in the city. Such charges are making their way to the West Midlands, beginning with the Birmingham Clean Air Zone. However, if further charges are introduced in the West Midlands with the aim of reducing traffic, our research shows that responses may be mixed.