Seven things we learned from a database of MOT tests with 34 million entries

Your big end’s gone: MOT test, 1962 style. Image: Hulton Archive/Getty.

Cars aren’t exactly CityMetric’s favourite mode of transport, but there’s no denying they’re a popular way to get around. Last month, the Department for Transport released its dataset of MOT tests carried out in England, Scotland and Wales throughout 2017, in a 34 million entry spreadsheet, all broken down by postcode area. Digging into the data reveals some odd, surprising and even useful insights.

1. Northern Cars Don’t Get Far

Not being a driver myself, this wasn’t a finding I expected going in, but the further north you go, the fewer miles on the clock you tend to find. Scotland shows remarkably low mileage, with most regions getting under 70,000 miles on average and none breaking 80,000. At an educated guess, this is down to rainier weather, colder temperatures and hills all putting extra strain on vehicles. It’s not necessarily that people drive less, but that their cars need replacing more often.

The two non-London postcode areas in England which fall in the lowest bracket for mileage are those containing the Yorkshire Dales and half of the Peak District, which, beautiful as they are, probably aren’t the easiest environments for drivers.

2. But Welsh cars do

Despite the rainy weather and difficult terrain, all of Wales’ eight major postcode areas are in the top half nationally for miles driven.

This may be necessity overcoming the climate problems. Drivers in southern Powys are the most prolific, clocking up over 84,000 miles per vehicle, which is unsurprising, since it’s one of the most sparsely populated areas in the country with poor public transport.

It isn’t simply a rural thing, though – drivers in Newport also have much more heavily-used cars than average.

Image: Robin Wilde.

3. Good commuter rail might make a difference

The map shows that, generally, the closer you are to a major metropolitan area, the less you drive (unless you’re a cab driver).

Certainly Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and the Home Counties have a halo of comparatively low mileage figures in their urban areas. Even accounting for the lower figures in Scotland, Glasgow has the fourth-lowest average car mileage outside London, at 65,842 miles – 10,000 below the national average – and is served by Britain’s second largest commuter rail network, after London.

Birmingham, on the other hand, is the exception among Britain’s biggest cities, and the West Midlands has higher-than-average figures everywhere except Dudley. As Tom Forth recently set out on this site, the public transport situation there leaves much to be desired, with long journey times impacting on productivity.

4. Amazon’s vehicle fleet is… odd

There are five UK postcodes that begin with the non-geographic XX. Three are reserved for Amazon distribution centres (two postcodes in Scotland, one in the south west), one for Boohoo, and one for ASOS. They’re typically used for customer returns, but there were also 2,552 MOTs carried out on vehicles registered there in 2017.

I’m no businessman, but I do question why Amazon, Boohoo or ASOS might need a 1962 model Heinkel Trojan 200, a strange bubble-shaped car that looks like something out of the Jetsons. It’s cream-coloured, naturally. Nor am I sure that a yellow 1969 Jaguar E-Type is an appropriate way to move parcels around.

One of the strangest entries is a 2011 Fiat 500 – an otherwise unremarkable car – which has somehow racked up 762,507 miles in a six year stretch. That works out at about 350 miles a day between it rolling off the production line and going for its 2017 MOT. Miraculously, it passed.

Google allegedly uses bike couriers to move hard drives around its datacentres, but the XX postcode area contains over 100 Vespa scooters, which is an impressive fleet by any standard. While it’s cliché to suggest that the strange activities of faceless corporations are inherently sinister, I think we deserve some answers. Seriously Amazon, what’s going on?


5. The West Country loves yellow cars

If you, like me, grew up with the game of Yellow Car, in which the first child to spot such a vehicle earns the right to punch others, you might want to stay out of Devon and ornwall. For some reason, five of the ten most yellow car owning postcodes are in the South West (Truro, Torquay, Plymouth, Exeter and Dorchester), and rates of yellow car ownership there can exceed 1 per cent. There isn’t any clear reason for this trend, unless the Lib Dem voting habits truly die hard.

Conversely, there are hardly any yellow cars in London: eight of the ten areas with least yellow cars are located there. You’ll see two and a half times as many yellow cars in Truro as in Ilford.

6. Londoners don’t drive, but taxi drivers make up for it

As you’d expect from a megacity with an extensive network of fast, reliable, integrated public transport, car usage in London is generally low. In fact, cars in Bromley are driven less than anywhere else outside the Amazon warehouses (61,526 miles on average). The West London, South West London and Kingston postcodes also make the bottom ten.

But that’s not the whole story – East London and Uxbridge are both in the top ten for mileage, Ilford and North London clock in fairly high, and a quick glance at the figures for car colour in those areas, which favour black far more than most places, suggests it’s the high concentration of taxi drivers. DfT statistics from 2017 suggest there are about 110,000 licensed taxi drivers in the capital, and some of them are pushing astonishing mileage figures: there were 201 MOTs carried out on cars with over 500,000 miles on the clock in East London alone.

7. Manchester likes to stand out

Manchester has a bit of a reputation in the North for showing off, with its musical heritage, popularity as a not-London business destination and subject of George Osborne’s devolution affections.

But its residents also have a penchant for more unusually-coloured vehicles. Mancunians have higher ownership of pink cars than anywhere else in the country (granted, it’s still only 0.09 per cent), and are tied for first with York for orange vehicles (about 0.75 per cent). Outside the yellow heartlands of the South-West, they also have the second-highest rate of ownership for yellow cars. They might still only make up about 2 per cent of the total, but they can rest assured they’re slightly more normal in Manchester than elsewhere.

 
 
 
 

London’s rail and tube map is out of control

Aaaaaargh. Image: Getty.

The geographical limits of London’s official rail maps have always been slightly arbitrary. Far-flung commuter towns like Amersham, Chesham and Epping are all on there, because they have tube stations. Meanwhile, places like Esher or Walton-on-Thames – much closer to the city proper, inside the M25, and a contiguous part of the built up area – aren’t, because they fall outside the Greater London and aren’t served by Transport for London (TfL) services. This is pretty aggravating, but we are where we are.

But then a few years ago, TfL decided to show more non-London services on its combined Tube & Rail Map. It started with a few stations slightly outside the city limits, but where you could you use your Oyster card. Then said card started being accepted at Gatwick Airport station – and so, since how to get to a major airport is a fairly useful piece of information to impart to passengers, TfL’s cartographers added that line too, even though it meant including stations bloody miles away.

And now the latest version seems to have cast all logic to the wind. Look at this:

Oh, no. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

The logic for including the line to Reading is that it’s now served by TfL Rail, a route which will be part of the Elizabeth Line/Crossrail, when they eventually, finally happen. But you can tell something’s gone wrong here from the fact that showing the route, to a town which is well known for being directly west of London, requires an awkward right-angle which makes it look like the line turns north, presumably because otherwise there’d be no way of showing it on the map.

What’s more, this means that a station 36 miles from central London gets to be on the map, while Esher – barely a third of that distance out – doesn’t. Nor does Windsor & Eton Central, because it’s served by a branchline from Slough rather than TfL Rail trains, even though as a fairly major tourist destination it’d probably be the sort of place that at least some users of this map might want to know how to get to.

There’s more. Luton Airport Parkway is now on the map, presumably on the basis that Gatwick is. But that station doesn’t accept Oyster cards yet, so you get this:

Gah. Click to expand. Image: TfL.

There’s a line, incidentally, between Watford Junction and St Albans Abbey, which is just down the road from St Albans City. Is that line shown on the map? No it is not.

Also not shown on the map: either Luton itself, just one stop up the line from Luton Airport Parkway, or Stansted Airport, even though it’s an airport and not much further out than places which are on the map. Somewhere that is, however, is Welwyn Garden City, which doesn’t accept Oyster, isn’t served by TfL trains and also – this feels important – isn’t an airport.

And meanwhile a large chunk of Surrey suburbia inside the M25 isn’t shown, even though it must have a greater claim to be a part of London’s rail network than bloody Reading.

The result of all these decisions is that the map covers an entirely baffling area whose shape makes no sense whatsoever. Here’s an extremely rough map:

Just, what? Image: Google Maps/CityMetric.

I mean that’s just ridiculous isn’t it.

While we’re at it: the latest version shows the piers from which you can get boats on the Thames. Except for when it doesn’t because they’re not near a station – for example, Greenland Pier, just across the Thames to the west of the Isle of Dogs, shown here with CityMetric’s usual artistic flair.

Spot the missing pier. You can’t, because it’s missing. Image: TfL/CityMetric.

I’m sure there must be a logic to all of this. It’s just that I fear the logic is “what makes life easier for the TfL cartography team” rather than “what is actually valuable information for London’s rail passengers”.

And don’t even get me started on this monstrosity.

Jonn Elledge is the editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.