No going back: European public opinion on air pollution in the Covid-19 era

The Covid-19 pandemic and lockdown have had a profound impact on mobility and air pollution in Europe. Those living in polluted cities are more at risk from Covid-19, the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) has warned. But with the lifting of its lockdown, air pollution and exceptional traffic have already returned to China. In this context, Transport and Environment (T&E) and the European Public Health Alliance (EPHA) decided to gauge public opinion on air pollution and mobility choices as lockdown measures ease and cities confront a commuter challenge.

International research data and analytics firm YouGov polled 7,545 adults of varied age, income and gender backgrounds living in 21 of the biggest cities across six countries between 14 and 21 May 2020. Unusually for private polling, cities were chosen because air pollution and mobility change has been most significant there. The survey  shows that an overwhelming majority of European city dwellers want their mayors and local governments to take effective measures against air pollution from road traffic. The main findings are:

  • Roughly two in three people (64%) surveyed do not want to go back to pre-pandemic pollution levels as they experienced good clean air.

  • Three quarters (74%) demand protection from air pollution, even if it means reallocating public space.

  • Two in three (68%) demand protection from air pollution, even if it means preventing polluting cars entering city centres.

  • One in five (21%) plan to cycle more; one in three (35%) to walk more after lockdown.

  • Among people who used public transport before the lockdown, 54% will return to use this mode if sufficient hygiene measures are taken. 27% will return regardless of the risk of contagion.