The number of miles covered by cars in Wales plummeted by a quarter last year with travel impacted by the coronavirus lockdown, figures show.

Data from the Department for Transport (DfT) shows cars and taxis covered an estimated 11.5 billion miles on Wales' roads during 2020.

That was 25 per cent fewer than in 2019, when 15.6 billion miles were covered. A similar drop in road traffic was recorded across Great Britain.

The DfT said the figures were heavily impacted by the effects of the coronavirus, with restrictions on travel in place through many months of last year.

The key question now is whether changes such as working-from-home (WFH) and staying local – both necessitated by the pandemic – will have long-term effects on the way people in Wales move around for both business and pleasure.


Last year saw the fewest miles driven on Welsh roads by motorists since 1995, but early indications from the UK government show traffic could return to 2019 levels as lockdown is eased.

But in Wales, the current Senedd administration has set a target for 30 per cent of workers to work from home, or close to home, after the pandemic.

Flexible working, with staff spending part of the week at the office or workplace, is also being encouraged in the long-run by the current Welsh Government, which cites the benefits of WFH as including a reduction in commute/travel time, a better work/life balance, and less traffic and pollution.

As lockdowns are eased in Wales and across the UK, however, the early signs suggest many people will be making a speedy return to the roads.

The RAC said it has already noticed an increase in vehicles on the UK's roads this year and that the rise looked set to continue over the coming months.

“With traffic now creeping back up to near-normal levels and restrictions due to ease further in the next few weeks, we expect it to be a busy summer on the roads," said the organisation's head of policy, Nicholas Lyes.

The RAC said its research had showed lockdown had strengthened the importance people place in owning a car.

On the other side of the debate, the Confederation of Passenger Transport UK, a group which represents the bus and coach industry, says it hopes people do not return to their cars.

The group wants the country to avoid a “car-based recovery”. Instead, it hopes to encourage people to use public transport.

Alison Edwards, head of policy at the group, said ministers should be "overtly encouraging people back onto buses and coaches".

She added: “Without this we will see greater congestion slowing our economic recovery along with worsening air quality and increased carbon emissions.”

This divide over the future of transport is clear in the coming Senedd election.

While each of the major parties is promising to make the environment a priority, the Welsh Conservatives are pledging to invest massively in new roads for the south and north of the country – a new M4 bypass in Newport and upgrades to the A40 and A55.

The Tories argue that an improved road network is critical to Wales' economic recovery from the pandemic, and any immediate environmental consequences of building those roads will be balanced out over the long-term by the expected switch to 'greener' vehicles.

But Welsh Labour, Plaid Cymru and the Welsh Liberal Democrats are all vowing to invest heavily in public transport, which they say will provide a more sustainable travel network for future generations, both by addressing climate and zero-carbon targets more immediately and by catering to younger people who are already less likely to own or use a car.

The future direction of Wales' transport strategy, then, may well depend on the result of Thursday's election.

Additional reporting by Alex Ross, data reporter for the Radar news service.