December 23, 2020 | Travelling at Christmas, shopping for presents and new transport routines

DLR study investigates mobility in the renewed lockdown

  • DLR transport researchers asked 1000 people how their mobility behaviour had changed during the renewed lockdown.
  • The focus was on travel at Christmas, gift buying and new transport routines.
  • Christmas – decline in travel likely and clear trend towards online shopping.
  • Trends continue – private car still has a feel-good factor, dramatic decline in public transport use.
  • Focus: Transport, intelligent mobility, coronavirus

How has mobility behaviour in Germany changed since the renewed coronavirus lockdown? The German Aerospace Center (Deutsches Zentrum für Luft- und Raumfahrt; DLR) has investigated this topic in a study. From late November to early December, DLR scientists surveyed approximately 1000 people for the third time; the participants were chosen to cover a representative spread of the population. As in the first two surveys, which were conducted in spring and summer 2020, the scientists were interested in respondents' mobility patterns in relation to work, leisure activities, shopping and travelling. "Again, we have seen a number of changes. Travel at Christmas is expected to be reduced by around half. The shift towards online shopping is continuing, while the dramatic decline in the use of public transport has persisted," says Claudia Nobis, a Group Leader at the DLR Institute of Transport Research.

Significant decline in Christmas travel

An overwhelming majority – 80 percent of respondents – said that they did not plan to travel over the festive season. Only eight percent are planning to make a journey, while five percent were unsure at the time of the survey. Six percent did not know where they would be spending Christmas, regardless of the coronavirus pandemic. "If all of those who were undecided end up staying at home, the number of people travelling will fall by 60 percent. A significant decrease is highly likely due to the tightening of the lockdown in mid-December," explains Nobis.

The decision to travel at Christmas was strongly correlated with each participant's behaviour in 2019. Many of those who travelled in 2019 (22 percent) also plan to go away in 2020. The younger the respondent, the more likely they were to be planning to travel – 19 percent of those aged under 29, as opposed to just two percent of over-65s.

Christmas shopping – the trend towards online shopping continues

The coronavirus pandemic continues to have a strong impact on the shopping behaviour of German consumers, with the proportion of people purchasing items online continuing to rise since the first lockdown in spring. Fifty percent said that they had ordered one to three items online in the last four weeks. Thirty-six percent do so on a weekly basis. Only 14 percent have not purchased anything online. At the same time, the number of respondents who feel uncomfortable shopping in bricks-and-mortar stores has increased since summer.

Online shopping has also accounted for a greater share of Christmas presents than last year – 37 percent said that they are buying most of their presents online. Last year's figure was just 22 percent.

Ongoing trends – car versus public transport, fewer journeys

"Our mobility behaviour is characterised by routines. These show a high degree of stability even during the crisis. However, we have noticed that new routines are emerging as the coronavirus situation continues," summarises Claudia Nobis. "More people are using their own cars, even accounting for the usual seasonal increase in car use during winter. At the same time, the dramatic decline in the use of public transport has continued." More than half of the study participants are making fewer journeys by public transport. The proportion of people who are making far fewer journeys has climbed to 37 percent – 16 percent more than in the summer. The main reason for this is that unease about taking public transport has increased again. The car, on the other hand, still registers a clear feel-good factor.

During the November lockdown, respondents again reduced their mobility significantly – 56 percent stated that they had travelled less or much less than usual over the preceding seven days.

For the first time, the DLR researchers asked respondents to envisage which means of transport they would be using in future. "Their answers clearly reflected the new modes of behaviour that have developed during the pandemic," says Nobis. Eighteen percent want to walk more, six per cent are keen to do more cycling, while nine percent believe that they will use their car more frequently. Nineteen percent said that they would use public transport less often.

Changes to working from home and leisure activities

As before, working from home is continuing to play a major role. The proportion of professionals working from home has risen slightly, with 40 percent now working from home some or all of the time. This option also seems to be becoming increasingly prevalent in more rural regions. People generally work from home more in cities. However, satisfaction with working from home has declined. In summer, approximately 75 percent of respondents thought this was a positive development, but that figure has now fallen to 66 percent.

Many people also stated that they felt uncomfortable taking part in leisure activities. This was especially true of meeting up with friends, relatives or acquaintances. Due to the lockdown, 37 percent had not engaged in any recreational activities outdoors over the previous seven days. Sixty-three percent had been outside at least once – usually for a walk or to take part in outdoor sporting activities.

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Denise Nüssle

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Corporate Communications
Pfaffenwaldring 38-40, 70569 Stuttgart
Tel: +49 711 6862-8086

Claudia Nobis

German Aerospace Center (DLR)
Institute of Transport Research
Rutherfordstraße 2, 12489 Berlin