On the road to leisure
Leisure is the most important source of mobility: it accounts for almost two-fifths of all trips and more than two-fifths of all kilometres travelled. This is considerably more than the travel generated by commuting to and from work, and even greatly exceeds all household trips. Long traffic jams on the approaches to amusement parks and major events, large numbers of visitors to Sunday shopping events or festivals, dry ski slopes and karting tracks, congestion around out-of-town furniture malls and factory outlet stores: the list is ever growing. Yet research and policy documents devote virtually no attention to leisure mobility. Leisure research has to date focused mainly on the activities carried out at the destination, while mobility research and policy are concerned mainly with travel between home and work.
The Social and Cultural Planning Office of the Netherlands (SCP) has set itself the aim of exploring trends in leisure mobility in more depth in a long-range study. The hope is that this will fill the gap in knowledge in research and policy in this area. This report is the first in a series of publications on this subject, and is the result of collaboration with the Transport Research Centre (AVV) of the Ministry of Transport, Public Works and Water Management. The report describes an exploratory study of three aspects of leisure mobility, namely context, characteristics and dynamics.
The context refers to the social conditions and individual resources that influence leisure and serve as parameters for activity outside the home. More specifically it means things such as the amount of time and money people have at their disposal, as well as the available means of transport and destinations. The characteristics of leisure activity outside the home relate to the extent, composition and range of leisure travel: the number of trips and the distances covered, the use of various modes of transport, and the who, when and where of leisure mobility. Finally, dynamics refers to the developments that have taken place in the characteristics of leisure mobility to date and the anticipated developments in the near future.
Over the last few decades it has become increasingly easy to visit leisure amenities and attractions. The Dutch have lots of time and lots of money at their disposal, can cover greater distances better and more quickly, and have access to more information and more leisure amenities than ever before. And although the amount of time per head of the population has been falling back slightly since the middle of the 1980s, this is more than offset by the fact that people have more money at their disposal, more (i.e. faster) mobility, and more (potential) leisure destinations.
As the opportunities to participate in leisure activities outside the home have grown strongly, leisure and leisure mobility have undergone a transformation from an elite phenomenon to a mass product. Despite this, a large part of the way leisure is spent has undergone little change. Visits to friends and family, travelling to and from sports clubs and visiting bars can be seen as fixed elements within a context of change.
Leisure accounts for a high proportion of people's total mobility, making up 38% of all trips and 44% of all kilometres travelled. A large number of kilometres are covered in particular on visits to friends and family, though recreational trips such as walking and cycling also account for a high proportion of mobility. Together, the Dutch make 6.6 billion leisure trips each year, covering a total distance of 82 billion kilometres. (almost 2 million times around the world). In reality, however, these figures are considerably higher, because the data source from which they are taken does not allow statements to be made about the amount of mobility accounted for by recreational shopping. Based on another data source, it is clear that 'fun shopping' accounts for a very high proportion of the total number of day trips undertaken by the Dutch, and the number of kilometres travelled.
The car is the most frequently used means of transport for leisure travel, both in proportion to the number of trips and in proportion to the number of kilometres travelled. In more than half of all trips and 80% of the kilometres travelled, leisure mobility is to some degree synonymous with 'automobility'. Cycling, and especially walking, are much less frequent. Public transport accounts for a marginal share in leisure trips; if it is used at all, it is primarily used to reach destinations in urban areas.
The geographical range of leisure trips is very limited. The majority of all trips remain within the municipal boundaries. One in four trips covers a distance of more than ten kilometres; 'only' one trip in ten involves a distance of more than 30 kilometres. This short range is caused largely by the fact that the majority of leisure outside the home consists of regular activities - in other words, activities undertaken with some regularity at fixed times and fixed locations, such as taking part in sport, visiting bars or community centres, walking the dog, going to church and the library. These are all activities where people logically stay close to home. When it comes to activities that are not embedded in fixed patterns and routines, such as 'occasional' visits to a theme park or event, people are found to be willing to cover relatively large distances. Almost one in five day trips involve covering distances of more than 30 kilometres, while 60% involve a destination outside the traveller's own municipality. In summary, the geographical range of leisure trips varies depending on whether they are 'regular' and 'occasional' leisure activities. Social journeys occupy a special position in this regard: they are regular in nature, but generally involve travelling greater distances.
The distribution of leisure mobility over the hours and days of the week shows a clear concentration at the weekend, with a combined share of 45% of all leisure-time trips taking place primarily on Saturday and Sunday. During the week, leisure travel is distributed reasonably evenly over the hours of the day, with virtually no peaks. There is however a concentration around the end of the afternoon and during the evening hours. At weekends the peaks in traffic occur around the middle of the day: on both Saturday and Sunday a peak is reached between 2.00 p.m. and 3.00 p.m., of 1.4 and 2.0 million simultaneous trips, respectively.
At the times when most traffic is on the roads, namely on weekdays during the morning rush hour at around 8:20 a.m., there are hardly any people travelling for leisure purposes. The evening rush hour, by contrast, has a relatively high proportion of leisure mobility: at around one in three trips, after commuting it is the most important reason for being underway at around 5.00 pm. The majority of these trips are however local, and many of them involve walking or cycling; the net impact of leisure travel on the daily traffic congestion on the main road network is probably very slight.
The geographical, temporal and social range of leisure mobility has increased enormously in recent decades. The Dutch are travelling ever greater distances, with ever more frequency (including on days other than Sunday), and increasingly it is not just the wealthy top segment of the population undertaking this travel.
Despite this, the ceiling of out-of-home leisure activity appears to have
been reached in the last twenty years. Individual behavioural data from
mobility studies carried out in the period 1985-2003 suggest that there have
been few changes in the amount of leisure mobility, and also few changes in the
geographical and temporal range of that mobility. Although the total number of
leisure trips made and leisure kilometres travelled has increased, it has
remained unchanged as a proportion of total mobility. In short, the pattern is
one of stability; there is a marked absence of dynamism. Yet the findings
relating to the trends are hedged in by many uncertainties. First, the data do
not provide a full picture of all forms of leisure mobility. Second, the data
sources used show a trend break. Thirdly, other data point to developments of a
completely different nature. These uncertainties may indicate that a twofold
development is taking place: on the one hand people like to stay close to home
for regular activities such as sport, going out or walking, while on the other
hand travelling further and further from home for occasional trips and day
Developments in recent years in any event suggest that the absolute volume of leisure mobility will increase further in the coming decades. There are likely to be more people visiting more diverse destinations in the future, and they are likely to use cars for this more often than at present. The distances to be travelled will retain their twofold character: short distances for visits to regular destinations, and ever increasing distances for occasional activities. It may be that the timing of leisure mobility will also diverge further, with people increasingly spreading the timing of their trips, to include travelling in the mornings at the weekends and also during the daytime in the week. To some extent this will be due to the growing congestion at the busiest hours in the weekend, though the disappearance of fixed patterns and routines for the growing group of older persons will also have an influence, in that they are able to embark on trips during the week.
The effects of growing leisure mobility on the accessibility and reliability of the road network is expected to be low, however. There is in any event little reason to assume that more leisure mobility will result in more traffic congestion on the main road network during the week. Leisure is therefore unlikely to create any problems for mobility as a whole; on the other hand, the overall mobility volume will increasingly put pressure on leisure, as growing traffic congestion increasingly becomes a serious obstacle to the accessibility of leisure destinations in the decades ahead.