The 1973-1975 energy crisis and it's impact on transport

The energy crisis of the 1970s began with the Yom Kippur war between Israel and a number of states in the Middle East, which erupted on 6 October 1973. The Arab members of the Organisation of Oil Exporting Countries (OPEC) implemented an oil embargo on 17 October 1973. The embargo was accompanied by significant increases in the price of oil. These developments were serious for all the major Western countries. They had particular impact in the UK where they were accompanied by a major industrial dispute in the mining industry. The measures imposed under this state of emergency includeda three day working week in industry and restrictions on the use of electricity. From both the overall historical perspective and the behaviour of car ownership and road traffic levels there are some interesting comparisons between the period from 1973 to 1975 and the events of 2008 to 2009. GDP fell in both 1974 and 1975, by about 1% in each year. This is less severe than the current recession but it was as prolonged. The fuel supply situation was not just one in which prices increased but a situation where reductions in use were sought regardless of price. There are number of areas in which the events of 1973 - 75 continue to resonate with more recent developments. These include: (a) The motorist was a focus of particular attention in efforts to reduce fuel consumption. (b) There were few major differences between the two main political parties in their views and policies on the transport sector. (c) The events of the period had major practical impacts on transport policies and investments. (d) The differences of viewon the potential impact of the crisis were wide. (e) Taxation policy was used as a component of demand management. Petrol ration books were distributed to all motorists with effect from 29 November 1973 but were not actually used. Speed limits were also a continuing focus of attention. While there was little difference between the views of the political parties, there was a substantial change in policy over the period. In the light of the planned traffic transfers to rail, and despite admissions that the impact on road transport would probably be small, successive governments made significant cuts in the roads budget. With the benefit of hindsight it is clear that the energy crisis of 1973 - 75 had little impact on long term trends in car ownership and traffic levels. There was little change in use of public transport. The main impact was on leisure travel rather than travelto work or in the course of work. There are a number of ways in which theevents of 35 years ago resonate today. The motorist is again the focus ofparticular attention as an energy user, to an extent that appears excessive in the light of the relative importance of motoring in total energy usage. It is suggested that the motorist may have to adapt to electric or hydrogen cars over the next 35 years but that the demand for personal, adaptable transport is certain to continue. The outlook for public expenditure is at least as difficult today as it was in 1973 and the risk that the roads program will suffer significant cuts is clear. The implications of current motoring tax policies are discussed. For the full text of this publication see:


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Media Info

  • Pagination: 15p
  • Serial:
    • Issue Number: 09/107

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Filing Info

  • Accession Number: 01148972
  • Record Type: Publication
  • Source Agency: Transport Research Laboratory
  • Files: ITRD
  • Created Date: Jan 25 2010 9:09AM