transition towns transport

Luton is third worst city in Britain for car dependency

Oh dear, bad news for Luton today, as the Campaign for Better Transport publishes its Car Dependency Scorecard for 2010. We come third from the bottom. Only Milton Keynes and Peterborough are more dependent on their cars.

Why did we come out so badly? The report explains:
Car travel has caused traffic problems, especially around the M1. The town is densely built-up with inaccessible areas, causing congestion problems during peak rush hours. Poor public transport and high car use led to Luton’s rank. Buses suffer from punctuality issues, inadequate frequencies and lack of direct services to required destinations. However, a multimillion pound busway development will ensure by 2012 more than 70,000 residents will live within walking distance of a stop.

Well, I can testify to the poor bus service, and the M1 and the airport tend to dictate transport options across the town. It’s also very hilly and cycling is something of a challenge. And of course until recently it’s been home to Vauxhall, one of the country’s biggest car manufacturers, meaning cars are a real matter of pride and identity in Luton.

It doesn’t help that the busway has met with fierce local opposition, mainly as a waste of money, but it is going ahead. The report also points out that ” persistent city council support for the A5-M1 Link and Luton Northern Bypass is counter-productive and puts any reduction in car dependency into considerable jeopardy.”

Looks like our Transition Luton group has got its work cut out – and we can learn from those at the top end of the list. Nottingham comes out best, thanks to its tram and good use of buses. London is second, with lots of public transport options and growing cycle networks. It’s those other viable options that are most obviously absent in Luton, and that are key to dependency:

“Our report suggests that for many people car use is enforced rather than a choice and people are only dependent on cars due to the lack of other options” says CBT’s Stephen Joseph. “Tackling car dependency is not about stopping people owning or using cars – it’s about giving people options, allowing them to decide how they get about and what kind of city they want to live in.”


  1. I was born in Luton and lived there for 24 years. From what I remember, using the town centre as the nucleus, there were council estates in every direction, which in turn meant that it was likely that there would be undesireble (or in some cases, dangerous) people on buses regardless of which area one was travelling to. This, coupled with the fact that it is somehow unacceptable for an adult over 25 and under 70 to be on a bus as it signifies poverty.

    1. I blame Margaret Thatcher, who said that any man who finds himself on a bus over the age of 21 should consider himself a failure. (The exception is London, one of the few places in the country where bus use has risen.) I don’t feel unsafe on Luton’s buses, I just find it quicker to walk. They tend to take highly circuitous routes into town.

  2. It depends very much on whereabouts in Luton you live and where you are trying to get to. I am lucky, with a choice of two equally close bus routes, one of which (No 12) runs every 15 minutes during the day but is a bit circuitous, and the Hitchin/Stevenage bus on Hitchin Road which is less frequent but direct. I find it faster and cheaper (i.e. free with a bus pass) than using the car. I occasionally walk, but it is about 2.5-3 miles each way with a hill to walk up on the way home, which takes more time than I can usually spare. I usually walk a slightly longer way via Bradgers Hill and Wardown Park, which makes it quite pleasant. In some parts of Luton, though, public transport is a nightmare.

    I tried to persuade the council many years ago (1970s, when I was a minority party leader on the council) that it was no good making life difficult for motorists if they didn’t first provide a viable alternative, but they wouldn’t take me seriously. It seems they still haven’t learnt that simple lesson even now.

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