Motor fuel price increases in the UK: who will lose the most?

Fuel prices at the pump, which had been declining since 2014, have recently started to increase again, as a result of changes in the oil price market and sterling devaluation since Brexit. They are expected to increase even further in 2017 as part of a general trend towards higher inflation in the UK.

If prices were to increase significantly, many British households would find it hard to cope. Household budgets are already under strain and, for many, a car is necessary to reach work, shops and other basic activities of daily life. For some, it will be possible to ‘shift’ to alternative modes of travel, but this is by no means always the case.

In our work for the (t)ERES research project, we have developed an indicator to map vulnerability to fuel price increases in England. Details about the method and findings can be read in a conference paper available on this website and in the presentation below.

Overall, our findings show the picture of a divided country. Greater London and the surrounding areas would be very resilient to fuel price increases, because of low current levels of expenditure on fuel, higher income and good public transport.

Much of the rest England, however, would suffer more, as a result of lower income, worse public transport, or both. This is true of places as different as Cumbria, the West Midlands, Sheffield city-region and seaside towns on the East Coast. Many of these places have suffered huge cuts to public transport since 2010, which have probably made them even more vulnerable.

Four more articles from journal special issue published online

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As part of this research project, we are guest-editing a special issue of Tranport Policy on “Household transport costs, economic stress and vulnerability, at the interface between mobility, domestic energy and residential location”. The first two articles were published online in late 2016.

January 2017 has seen the publication online of four further articles on the themes of forced car ownership, automobile debt, spatial patterns in the costs of car use, and the consequences of the economic crisis on travel behaviour. They cover contexts as different as the UK, Greece, Canada and Glasgow (Scotland).

Alan Walks – ‘Driving the poor into debt? Automobile loans transport disadvantage, and automobile dependence

Alan Walks of the University of Toronto presents a study on the link between automobile dependence and household indebtedness in the main Canadian metropolitan areas. He finds evidence that low-income households living in car dependent areas have higher levels of debt for automobile loans, although the determinants of overall debt levels are complex and hard to disentangle.

Tim Chatterton, Jillian Anable, Sally Cairns & Eddie Wilson – ‘Financial implications of car ownership and use: a distributional analysis based on observed spatial variance considering income and domestic energy costs‘ 

Tim Chatterton (University of the West of England) and colleagues demonstrate how vehicle inspection data (publicly available in the UK) can be used to map spatial variation in household motoring expenditure at a very disaggregated level. They find higher expenditure levels in less urbanised areas, as well as a strong relationship between expenditure on road fuel and domestic energy (at the area level).

Apostolos Papagiannakis, Ioannis Baraklianos & Alexia Spyridonidou – ‘Urban travel behaviour and household income in times of economic crisis: Challenges and perspectives for sustainable mobility

Apostolos Papagiannakis (Aristotle University of Thessaloniki) and colleagues present findings from a survey of urban travel behaviour in crisis-striken Greece. They find that economic recession has resulted in large decreases in car use, as a result of both modal shift and outright trip avoidance. Notably, they find that low-income households had to switch to cheaper travel modes in order to maintain or even decrease their travel expenditure.

Angela Curl, Julie Clark & Ade Kearns – ‘Household car adoption and financial distress in deprived urban communities: A case of forced car ownership?

The study of Angela Curl and colleagues (University of Glasgow) takes a look at ‘forced car owners’ – households owning cars despite financial difficulties – in deprived areas of Glasgow (Scotland). They find that, despite the urban location and the impact of the economic crisis, ‘forced car ownership’ rates increased rapidly between 2006 and 2011. This suggests that, even in urban areas, many low-income households find it hard to do without cars, and have to cope with the resulting economic stress.

Transport Poverty workshop: view all the presentations

Transport poverty workshop

The two-day international workshop “Energy-related economic stress at the interface between transport poverty, fuel poverty and residential location” was held at the University of Leeds on May 20th-21st. It was organised as part of the EPSRC-funded (t)ERES research project, which is linked to the DEMAND Research Centre. 41 participants from four countries took part in the workshop over the two days, including 13 non-academic participants from DfT, DECC, DCLG, Welsh Government, Leeds City Council, RAC Foundation, EDF R&D, CPT, ACE and the Centre for Cities.

The aim of the workshop was to make connections between issues of affordability in different areas (transport, housing and domestic energy) and how these have been conceptualised (or not) in three different EU countries (UK, France and Germany), while at the same time bringing together academic and policy perspectives. Over two intensive days we have discussed topics such as: transport-related economic stress among motorised lower-middle classes; the poor resilience and oil vulnerability of suburban and remote areas; urban households who cannot afford car ownership; the coping strategies of households and policy makers in the face of rising fuel and housing costs; how to develop a comprehensive approach to (transport and domestic) energy poverty; the definition and measurement of ‘transport poverty’.

The workshop programme can be downloaded here, a short paper setting the background to the workshop can be downloaded here, and all presentations can be viewed after the break.

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