Who could do without his car? Six graphs to analyze our daily journeys

To limit greenhouse gas emissions, we will have to drive less often, less quickly and for less time. In France, private cars contribute up to 54% of greenhouse gas emissions from transport, a sector which accounts for one third of the national carbon footprint.

How to reduce dependence on the car? Not everyone carries their entire family or a Norman wardrobe on every trip. But not everyone can swap their car for a bus, a bike or a pair of sneakers for every trip either.

Six graphs to understand the current challenges of French mobility, what could change and how:

  • A very stable journey time, a distance that is getting longer

On average, the French make three journeys a day for a duration of about an hour, according to the work carried out by Aurélien Bigo, associate researcher of the Energy and Prosperity Chair at the Louis-Bachelier Institute and author of a thesis on the decarbonization of transport by 2050. This daily average, expressed in minutes per day, has been surprisingly stable for two centuries, while the distance traveled has increased very sharply since the 1950s, with the massive diffusion of the automobile, then to a lesser extent of the plane; the average then goes from ten kilometers per day and per person to more than 50 kilometers in 2019.

In the XXIe century, the rise of the car has crushed the rest of mobility, reaching two-thirds of daily trips in 2019: “This dominance of road modes is to the detriment of active modes, while public transport is resisting mainly in large cities and for long-distance journeys”explains the researcher, specialist in the energy transition of transport.

Changes in distances traveled by mode of transport

This graph presents an estimate of the evolution of the distance traveled in France per person and per day on average, from 1819 to 2019.

  • 74% of home-work journeys by car, and 52% for less than 2 kilometers

Journeys between home and the workplace, which are particularly long in France (one hour and twenty-three minutes for working people who travel), are the best documented. According to the latest INSEE data, in 2017, of the 24.6 million working people going to work, 74% used their car (i.e. 18.1 million people), 16% took public transport, 6% walked and 2% cycled.

Among the astonishing results, the car is used in 52.9% of journeys, including for journeys of less than 2 kilometers (i.e. less than twenty minutes of walking or less than five minutes of cycling) – there, 1.95 million people are affected. For the same distance, 30.6% of French people use their feet (1.13 million) and 5% the bicycle (185,000 people).

33% of home-work trips are less than 5 km

This graph shows the proportions of the different modes of transport according to the home-work distance to be covered. Reading : 56.3% of people who travel between 1 and 2 km to get to work do so by car.

  • 90% use of cars in rural areas

If on the whole the car crushes all the other modes of transport to go to work, we observe clear differences according to the size of the cities. In small and medium-sized municipalities, the use of the car is massive, including in the “central municipalities”, since it is close to 70%, and up to 90% for the “crown” municipalities (on the outskirts) , as INSEE writes. The use of public transport peaks at 14% in the “centres”, and 13.5% of the inhabitants opt for cycling and walking; on the outskirts, these figures drop to 1.9% for public transport and 7.2% for “soft modes” (walking and cycling).

As soon as one leaves the “attraction areas of cities”, due to increased distances and the less dense supply of public transport, 90% of working people use their car to get to work.

  • The particular case of Paris and its region

The picture is very different for Paris, Ile-de-France, as well as some large dense, populated cities with good public transport. The place of the car is less there in commuting – the announcement of the planned “RER network” in the ten largest French cities could amplify these results.

  • 43% of motorists could walk or cycle

The center of urban areas is more favorable to modal shift – that is to say the passage from one mode of transport to another. According to the Territorial Observatory, “9% of motorized trips could be made on foot and just under half (43%) by bicycle”by residents of the “centre communes” of urban areas.

These figures are a little lower among the inhabitants of peri-urban areas, even if they remain high, since they reach a third of the journeys that could be made by walking (6%) or by bicycle (28%).

A theoretical modal shift everywhere greater than a third

This graph shows the proportion of journeys that could be made other than by car, depending on location and type of housing. Reading : In the suburbs, outside Île-de-France, 36% of journeys made by car could be by bike and 8.8% on foot.

Modal shift to:


the bike

The observatory specifies that this theoretical calculation is carried out by analyzing journeys of less than one kilometer, for the modal shift towards walking, or one to four kilometers for cycling, without taking into account the state of health of individuals. , public facilities (sidewalks, cycle paths, cycle parks, etc.), terrain or sequences of movements. It is more a question of showing that there are “reserves” significant modal shift towards non-polluting transport, particularly in urban centres, “precisely where the obstacles to their implementation are the most limited”.

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