How we travel

Page last updated: 2019 - due to be refreshed in 2022.

1 Five key points  

  1. Nearly 7 in 10 local survey respondents travel to work by car; six of those ten are the sole occupant for the whole journey. A further 1 in 10 respondents travel by public transport, and the remaining 2 in 10 travel actively to work, either by walking or cycling.[1] (3.2 mode of travel to work
  2. At the Census 2011, over 255,000 (82.1%) Suffolk households have access to a car or van. In rural areas, a higher proportion of households had access to a car or van than in urban areas (89.2% to 77.5%).[2] (3.3 vehicle ownership
  3. Using public transport can help individuals achieve recommended levels of daily physical activity by incorporating active travel as a component of the journey. There were almost 17 million passenger journeys on buses in Suffolk and more than 7.5 million journeys to or from a Suffolk railway station in 2016/17.[3] (3.4 public transport
  4. Suffolk has a wealth of public rights of way for walking and cycling, with 3,500 miles of footpaths, bridleways and byways, and 500 miles of cycle routes. The County boasts 12,500 acres of heathland landscapes and 12,500 acres of forest land where the public have the right to roam.[37] (3.5 active travel
  5. In 2018, Suffolk had eleven Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs), where the levels for nitrogen dioxide exceeded national guidelines. It is estimated that traffic flows in Suffolk will increase by 24% over the next 20 years. (3.6 pollution, 3.8 plans for development)

2 Why is travel important in Suffolk?       

Transport allows us to see our family and friends, get to work, go on holiday, access education and health services, and do the activities that we enjoy. Our transport system is made up of a diverse range of travel options and is much more than planes, trains and cars. It also includes buses, ferries and active forms of travel such as walking and cycling (which can be combined with public transport). Transport can have both beneficial and detrimental effects on health (Figure 1).

Figure 1: Benefits and detriments of transport[5]

Benefits & detriments of transport

Source: Public Health Suffolk County Council, ‘State of Suffolk 2015’, Ipswich, 2015.

Over the last 60 years road traffic density in the UK has steadily increased. The most significant change in travel behaviour has been increased car use, which has brought many social and economic benefits, and is the primary means of travel for many people. 

Increased vehicle numbers and traffic volume mean congestion is a problem in many urban areas; there are also negative impacts on health.[6]–[10]  The risk of road traffic collisions has increased, as has exposure to air and noise pollution.[11] (see section 3.7 for Suffolk figures)

The UK has seen an overall long term decline in the number of road users killed or seriously injured, but there were still more than 170,000 reported road casualties in 2017 (1,793 deaths, 27,288 seriously injured and 141,912 slightly injured).[15These disproportionately affect vulnerable road users such as pedestrians and cyclists. (see section 3.7 for Suffolk figures) 

Long term exposure to air pollutants from road traffic has been found to decrease life expectancy by an average of six months; prenatal exposure to air pollution is associated with adverse outcomes in pregnancy.[6]–[10], [12]–[14Individuals who live or work near busy roads or airports suffer a greater burden from air pollution-related morbidity and premature mortality. Transport-related noise pollution (predominantly from roads, railways and airports) can adversely affect the cardiovascular system, mental health, and school performance in children. Socially disadvantaged people are more likely to live near busy roads and are at greater risk of the negative effects of both noise and air pollution. [6]–[10], [12]–[14]

Active forms of travel, such as walking and cycling, are the most sustainable forms of transport. They are also effective ways of integrating physical activity into everyday life, at little personal or societal cost. The health benefits include: improved mental health, a reduced risk of premature death, and prevention of chronic diseases such as coronary heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, osteoporosis, depression, dementia and cancer.[16]–[19

A consequence of increased car use has been the suppression of walking and cycling levels in the UK. With the increasing traffic density on UK roads, there has been a corresponding increase in risk of injury for pedestrians and cyclists. The reduction in active travel in the UK is associated with generally higher levels of physical inactivity and sedentary lifestyles. This in turn can contribute to higher levels of morbidity and mortality through an increased risk of clinical disorders such as cardiovascular disease, obesity, metabolic disorders and some cancers.[12]

Using public transport can help individuals achieve recommended levels of daily physical activity by incorporating active travel as a component of the journey.[20] Public transport is also viewed as the most sustainable transport option for longer journeys because it emits less harmful emissions at average occupancy compared to car use.[21]

There are significant inequalities in access to public transport – in particular in relation to disabled people, the elderly and rural populations – which can discourage its use among these groups.[22], [23Rural communities suffer less from congestion and pollution problems, but often have more limited access to services and inadequate active travel infrastructure and public transport networks. This is associated with increased levels of car use and lower levels of physical activity. Rural dwellers with poor access to public transport and without access to a car are also at an increased risk of social exclusion.[24]

3 What is the local picture?    

3.1 Commuter flows

People travel between Suffolk districts as part of their daily commute, which means daytime and night time populations will fluctuate. The 2011 Census captured detailed information about commuter flows between districts (Figure 2). Most people don’t commute outside the Suffolk district where they live: they either work in the district they live or work from home. People who commute between districts, generally travel into urban areas where job density is greater.

The highest levels of inward commuting were to Ipswich (27,516) and St Edmundsbury (19,560); both areas had more commuters travelling inward than outward.[25] All other districts had fewer commuters travelling inward than outward, with people travelling from more rural areas towards urban areas. The only exception was Forest Heath; where the presence of military bases in the area leads to an unusually high job density.

Figure 2: Local authority commuter flow data, Suffolk, 2011[25]

Local authority commuter flow data

Source: Office for National Statistics, ‘2011 Census: Location of usual residence and place of work by method of travel to work’,NOMIS - Official Labour Market Statistics, 2014.

Figure 3: Commuter flows, Ipswich, 2011[48]

commuter flows suffolk datashine

Source: DataShine Commute

3.2 Mode of travel to work       

The Suffolk Travel to Work Report 2018 summarises responses to an annual online survey about how people travel within the County.[1] The survey received 3,746 responses. Nearly seven in ten respondents (69.6%) travel to work by car; six of those ten (59%) are the sole occupant for the whole journey. Around one in ten respondents travel by public transport, either by bus (4.7%), train (4.2%) or park and ride (1.7%). The remaining two in ten respondents travel actively to work, either by walking (10.7%) or cycling (9.1%). Over the period 2010 to 2018, responses to the primary mode of transport to work and preferred mode of transport have remained stable. 

Figure 4. Mode of transport to work, Suffolk, 2018[1]

Mode of transport to work, Suffolk

Source: Suffolk County Council, ‘Travel to Work Report 2018’, 2018.

Census data can be used to compare travel methods between 2001 and 2011. This indicates that the percentage of Suffolk residents using public transport to travel to work rose slightly from 5.0% to 5.4% between 2001 and 2011.[26], [27]

3.3 Vehicle ownership   

The number of cars in Suffolk has increased by 40,000 since 2010.[28The 2011 Census shows that just over 255,000 Suffolk households had access to a car or van (82.1% of all households).[2] The proportion of households with access to a car or van was higher in rural areas of Suffolk (89.2%) than urban areas (77.5%).

The number of cars/vans per household increases with rurality according to more recent national data from the National Travel Survey. In urban conurbations the number of cars/vans per household is close to one (0.98) whereas in rural villages and hamlets it is closer to two (1.76). The East of England region has a higher number of cars/vans per household than other regions in England, which reflects the relatively high proportion of rural populations across the region.[29]

Despite the high proportion of households with access to a car or van, this still leaves around 1 in 10 rural households (just over 13,000) with no access to a car or van. These households may be at an increased risk of social exclusion and may have difficulty accessing services and amenities.[24]

3.4 Public transport       

There are over 200 local bus service routes in Suffolk as well as the demand responsive transport scheme, Connecting Communities, which helps people who do not have access to a regular bus service. In 2016/17, almost 17 million passenger journeys were made on local bus services in the County, of which 4 in 10 (38.3%) were elderly/disabled concessionary passenger journeys.[3] This suggests older populations entitled to free bus travel use services more regularly than younger people. There is national evidence which suggests that younger people (aged under 16) are also frequent users of local bus services.[30] 

Frequent direct trains run between London Liverpool Street and Norwich, calling at Ipswich, Stowmarket and Diss. Lines also run between: Ipswich and Felixstowe; Ipswich and Lowestoft; Ipswich and Cambridge, Peterborough, Ely. There were more than 7.5 million passenger entries or exits at Suffolk stations in 2017/18.[31]

Access to public transport routes may be limited in some areas of the County, despite large numbers of journeys taking place by bus and train. In rural areas, this may be due to infrequent services or timetabling which makes it impossible to travel outbound and get back home on the same day.

Suffolk County Council has a transformation programme focussed on travel choices, with the vision of increasing travel options for Suffolk residents, including the ability to arrange their own transport to meet their needs, without public subsidy.[32]

3.5 Active travel 

Suffolk has: 3,500 miles of footpaths, bridleways and byways, and 500 miles of cycle tracks, cycle lanes and waymarked leisure cycling routes, including three national cycle routes. The County boasts 12,500 acres of heathland landscapes and 12,500 acres of forest land where the public have the right to roam.[37

According to the Suffolk Travel to Work survey, around two in ten individuals travel actively to work, either by walking (10.7%) or cycling (9.1%).[1] However, this is a small survey and Census data gives a more comprehensive idea. The 2011 Census suggests that 1 in 25 people (4%) regularly cycle to work and 1 in 8 (11.9%) regularly walk to work.[27] The relatively low number of cyclists may be influenced by perceived and real barriers such as risk of injuries, road safety, and environmental factors, as well as infrastructure issues, such as the availability of secure bicycle storage and access to showers.

1 in 7 (14.7%) Suffolk residents cycled for travel and over half (54.8%) walked for travel in the previous year, according to estimates from the 2016/17 Active Lives Adult Survey. This is a national survey conducted by Ipsos MORI on behalf of Sport England about physical activity levels across England.[4] Reported levels of both cycling and walking for travel were lower in rural areas compared to urban (cycling 10.4% v 13.4% and walking 48.9% v 63.2%).

3.6 Pollution

Most outdoor air pollution comes from the burning of fossil fuels to generate heat and electricity, and to power vehicles. Local authorities are responsible for measuring air quality within their locality to identify areas that don’t currently meet national air quality objectives.[34] 

In 2018, Suffolk had eleven Air Quality Management Areas (AQMAs) where levels for nitrogen dioxide exceeded national guidelines. Five AQMAs were in Ipswich. Bury St Edmunds, Sudbury, Newmarket, Woodbridge, Great Barton and Stratford St Andrew all had one AQMA. A roads carrying significant volume of traffic pass through Great Barton (A143) and Stratford St Andrew (A12). An AQMA was in force at Felixstowe Dock between 2009 and 2016, when it was revoked after nitrogen dioxide levels caused by both traffic and port activity were reduced.[35]

3.7 People killed or seriously injured on roads

756 people were killed or seriously injured (KSI) in Suffolk in the three-year period 2014-16. The highest crude rates of KSI per 100,000 residents were found in Forest Heath (44.5) and the lowest in Ipswich (26.3) (Figure 5). Forest Heath still has the highest KSI rate in Suffolk, although this has decreased from a high of 74.1 per 100,000 residents in 2011-13.[36]

Figure 5. Crude rate of people killed or seriously injured per 100,000 residents, districts, Suffolk, England, 2014-16[36]Crude rate of people killed or seriously injured per 100,000 residents, districts, Suffolk, England, 2014-16

Source: Public Health England, ‘Public Health Profiles’, 2018. [36]

3.8 Plans for development

It is estimated that traffic flows in Suffolk will increase by 24% over the next 20 years.[37] The level of growth varies by time of day and location. Across Suffolk as a whole, the morning and evening peak traffic flows are expected to increase by 17% and 12%; traffic flow between the peak periods is expected to increase by 47%. The growth in traffic levels is predominately driven by the projected growth in population levels (and thus the number of trips) as well as changes to vehicle running costs.[38]

Suffolk has three major trunk roads (the A11, A14 and A12 except the section between Ipswich and Lowestoft) that are part of the Strategic Road Network (SRN). The SRN is around 2% of all roads in England by length but carries a third of all traffic by mileage. These roads are maintained by Highways England.

The Department for Transport have proposed the creation of a Major Road Network (MRN) to acknowledge the importance of the busiest and most economically important local authority 'A' roads.[39] In Suffolk, this would include the A12 between Ipswich and Lowestoft, A134, A140 and A146. Being part of the MRN would enable access to dedicated funding from the National Roads Fund for road improvements, which is significant at a time when the levels of funding available to local authorities are under pressure.[39]  

Major highway scheme improvements have been delivered in 2018, including the completion of the Bury Eastern relief road and sustainable improvements, Beccles relief road, and Ipswich improvement schemes. All these improvements seek to relieve congestion and facilitate safe travel into these towns. Work is ongoing on the design of the Lake Lothing third crossing in Lowestoft, the Eye Airfield link road and junction improvements, and the development of options to relieve traffic congestion in Sudbury.[37]

3.9 The Port of Felixstowe

The Port of Felixstowe is the UK’s busiest container port and one of the largest in Europe. The Port is a recognised centre of distribution and logistics, with most employment connected to shipping and Port activities. It represents a strategic employment site of both national and international significance and acts as the main driver for, and user of, industrial land both in Suffolk Coastal and the County more widely.[40]

From a health perspective, the Port of Felixstowe brings both positives and negatives. The onward transportation of imported goods necessitates that heavy goods vehicles (HGVs) travel to and from the Port. This increases traffic flow on major routes, particularly the A12 and A14 roads, potentially making journey times slower and increasing pollution from road vehicles. On occasions when the Orwell bridge closes (usually due to high winds), all traffic is re-routed through Ipswich town centre causing heavy congestion that is exacerbated by the number of HGVs.

4 What policies affect travel?    

The Suffolk Local Transport Plan 2011-2031 sets out the long term transport strategy for Suffolk.[41] Given Suffolk County Council’s key policy objective of promoting and aiding economic resilience and private sector led growth, this plan indicates how transport will play its part in supporting and facilitating future sustainable economic growth by:

  • maintaining (and in the future improving) our transport networks
  • tackling congestion
  • improving access to jobs and markets
  • encouraging a shift to more sustainable travel patterns

The Suffolk Roadsafe Board[42] is a non-statutory Board which was created in May 2007 to bring together the main agencies involved in road safety in the County. It currently comprises the Police and Crime Commissioner, representatives from Suffolk County Council, Suffolk Fire and Rescue Service, Suffolk Constabulary, Highways England, the East of England Ambulance Service and Public Health Suffolk. The agencies work together to provide the best possible use of resources and road safety expertise from many different disciplines. The Suffolk Roadsafe Strategy is intended to complement the Suffolk Local Transport Plan by making travel safer and healthier.[43]  This strategy aims to reduce the dominance of motorised vehicles and improve the conditions for cycling and walking. In Suffolk the most vulnerable groups of road users have been identified as:

  • motorcyclists - especially those riding bikes over 500cc
  • young drivers/ riders (aged 16-24)
  • pedestrians - especially school age children in deprived areas
  • work-related driving - including those commuting to work as well as for work purposes
  • offending drivers – otherwise known as ‘the fatal four’, drink/drug driving, speeding, driver distraction and failure to wear a seatbelt.
  • older drivers: Suffolk has an ageing population, some of whom are reliant on private cars to enhance and maintain their quality of life

The Suffolk Rail Prospectus[44] sets out the importance of rail in helping the economy to grow: Suffolk’s population is expected to increase significantly within the next 20 years, with much of this growth expected in and around the main urban areas of Ipswich, Lowestoft, Bury St. Edmunds and other rail connected towns. Improved local rail services between these towns and to regional centres such as Cambridge, Colchester, Norwich and Peterborough will help to increase opportunities for business and employment across Suffolk. The vision is for a high quality fast and frequent rail service between the three dynamic and growing regional centres of Ipswich, Cambridge and Norwich. Improved rail services help relieve the burden on the main trunk roads that run through Suffolk by enabling commuters and business users to take the train to work instead of using the congested road network. Additionally, ports and logistics are a key sector of the Suffolk economy and improved facilities for rail freight between Suffolk's ports, particularly Felixstowe and its markets in the London and Midlands area, will help relieve traffic congestion caused by heavy goods vehicles on the strategic road network.[44]

Strategies are in place relating to active forms of travel. Active for Life: Suffolk Walking Strategy 2015-2020[45] aims to make walking the default choice for journeys of 20 minutes or less and for walking to be seen as fun, beneficial, easy, inclusive, accessible and safe.[45] The strategy suggests that embedding activity in daily routines is the most effective way to maintain an active lifestyle. The first Suffolk Cycling Strategy was published in 2014.[46] It considers how best to encourage people to take to their bikes, as the growing population will place increasing pressure on our road network. It notes that cycling levels are in long term decline despite strong evidence that cycling provides many health benefits associated with physical activity. Suffolk County Council intend to update the cycling plan with a local Cycling & Walking Infrastructure Plan, as directed by the Department for Transport.[47]

5 Further information

6 References

[1]         Suffolk County Council, ‘Travel to Work Report 2018’, 2018.

[2]         Office for National Statistics, ‘2011 Census: Car or van availability’, NOMIS - Official Labour Market Statistics, 2014.

[3]         Department for Transport, ‘Local bus passenger journeys (BUS01)’, 2018. 

[4]         Sport England, ‘Active Lives Survey’, 2018. [Online]. Available: 

[5]        Public Health Suffolk County Council, ‘State of Suffolk 2015’, Ipswich, 2015. 

[6]         G. Hoek et al., ‘Concentration response functions for ultrafine particles and all-cause mortality and hospital admissions: results of a European expert panel elicitation’, Environ. Sci. Technol., vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 476–482, 2009.

[7]         M. M. Finkelstein, M. Jerrett, and M. R. Sears, ‘Traffic air pollution and mortality rate advancement periods’, Am. J. Epidemiol., vol. 160, no. 2, pp. 173–177, 2004.

[8]         A. Peters et al., ‘Exposure to traffic and the onset of myocardial infarction’, N. Engl. J. Med., vol. 351, no. 17, pp. 1721–1730, 2004.

[9]         C. Tonne, S. Melly, M. Mittleman, B. Coull, R. Goldberg, and J. Schwartz, ‘A case–control analysis of exposure to traffic and acute myocardial infarction’, Environ. Health Perspect., vol. 115, no. 1, pp. 53–57, 2006. DOI: 10.1289/ehp.9587

[10]      W. J. Gauderman et al., ‘Effect of exposure to traffic on lung development from 10 to 18 years of age: a cohort study’, Lancet, vol. 369, no. 9561, pp. 571–577, 2007.

[11]      British Medical Association, ‘Healthy transport = Healthy lives’, 2012. 

[12]      Department of Health, ‘Start active, stay active. A report on physical activity for health from the four home countries’ Chief Medical Officers’, 2011.

[13]      Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Valuing the overall impacts of air pollution’, 2010.

[14]      Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants, ‘Long-term exposure to air pollution: effect on mortality’, 2010. Retrieved from

[15]      Department for Transport, ‘Reported road casualties in Great Britain: 2017 annual report’, 2018.

[16]      Parliamentary Office for Science and Technology. (2001). Health benefits of physical activity. London.

[17]      Department of Health, & Department for Transport. (2010). Active travel strategy. London.

[18]      D. E. R. Warburton, S. Charlesworth, A. Ivey, L. Nettlefold, and S. S. D. Bredin, ‘A systematic review of the evidence for Canada’s Physical Activity Guidelines for Adults’, Int. J. Behav. Nutr. Phys. Act., vol. 7, no. 1, p. 39, 2010.

[19]      J. J. De Hartog, H. Boogaard, H. Nijland, and G. Hoek, ‘Do the health benefits of cycling outweigh the risks?’, Environ. Health Perspect., vol. 118, no. 8, p. 1109, 2010.

[20]      E. Webb, G. Netuveli, and C. Millett, ‘Free bus passes, use of public transport and obesity among older people in England’, J Epidemiol Community Heal., vol. 66, no. 2, pp. 176–180, 2012.

[21]      UITP, ‘The role of public transport to reduce green house gas emissions and improve energy efficiency: position on the European climate change programme and the green paper on energy efficiency’, 2006. 

[22]      Sustainable Development Commission, ‘Fairness in a car dependent society’, 2011.

[23]      Leonard Cheshire, ‘Mind the gap’, 2003.

[24]      H. Titheridge, R. Christie, R. Mackett, R. Oviedo, D. Hernández, and R. Ye, ‘Transport and Poverty: A review of the evidence’, 2014.

[25]      Office for National Statistics, ‘2011 Census: Location of usual residence and place of work by method of travel to work’, NOMIS - Official Labour Market Statistics, 2014.

[26]      Office for National Statistics, ‘2001 Census: KS015 Travel to Work’, 2004.

[27]      Office for National Statistics, ‘2011 Census: QS701EW Method of travel to work’, 2014.

[28]      Department for Transport, ‘Vehicle ownership, approval and standards: Table VEH105’, 2018.

[29]      Department for Transport, ‘National Travel Survey 2017: Table NTS9902’, 2018.

[30]      Department for Transport, ‘Annual bus statistics: England 2016/17’, 2017.

[31]      Office of Rail and Road, ‘Station usage 2017-18 data’, Estimates of station usage, 2018.

[32]      Suffolk County Council, ‘Business Plan 2018/19’, 2018.

[34]      Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs, ‘Air Quality Management Areas’, 2018.

[35]      Suffolk Coastal and Waveney District Councils, ‘Ferry Lane Felixstowe AQMA - Revoked’.

[36]      Public Health England. (2018). Killed and seriously injured (KSI) casualties on England’s roads. Public Health Profiles. 

[37]      Suffolk County Council, Personal correspondence, 2018. (unpublished)

[38]      Department for Transport, ‘Road Traffic Forecasts 2018’.

[39]      New Anglia Local Enterprise Partnership, ‘A140 study and Major Road Network Executive Summary’. 

[40]      Suffolk Coastal District Council, ‘Port of Felixstowe Growth and Development Needs Study’, 2018.

[41]      Suffolk County Council, ‘Transport strategy and plans’, 2011.

[42]      Suffolk Roadsafe, ‘Partners - Suffolk Roadsafe’. 

[43]      Suffolk Roadsafe, ‘Suffolk Roadsafe Strategy’, 2015.

[44]      Suffolk County Council, ‘Suffolk Rail Prospectus’.

[45]      Suffolk County Council, ‘Active for Life: Suffolk Walking Strategy 2015-2020’, 2015.

[46]      Suffolk County Council, ‘Suffolk Cycling Strategy’, 2014.

[47]      Department for Transport, ‘Local cycling and walking infrastructure plans technical guidance’, 2017.

[48]      DataShine Commute.