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.

 
 
 
 

Does it matter that TfL are renaming White Hart Lane station Tottenham Hotspur?

New White Hart Lane. Image: Getty.

Pretend for a moment that you’re travelling in the London of 1932. You’re taking the Piccadilly Line northbound and alight at Gillespie Road station. The name should be obvious: it’s inscribed in bespoke brown tiling on the platform.

But that 31 October, following an intense campaign by the eponymous football club, the London County Council changed the station’s name to Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The area’s growing association with the name “Arsenal” ended in a lengthy negotiation that changed maps, signs and train tickets alike. Football had acquired so much power that it changed the name of not just a Tube station but an entire suburb, even before the era of Wenger or the Emirates.

Now the spectre of name changes is on the horizon once again. As Tottenham Hotspur FC inches closer to completing its new stadium, the club is clamouring for a renamed Overground station. Despite the fact the new stadium is located on almost exactly the same site as the old just off White Hart Lane, and fans have long been calling the scaffolding-laden mess “New White Hart Lane”, the club’s executive director is adamant that the station’s existing name cannot stand. White Hart Lane station, on the Overground line leaving Liverpool Street, is set to be renamed “Tottenham Hotspur”, at a cost to the club of £14.7m.

Little has been made of the fact that this peculiar PR kerfuffle is tied to Spurs’ failure to convince Nike to sponsor the venue. Some sources have even claimed that the sponsorship is yet to be finalised because it is somehow contingent on the renaming of the Overground station; beyond the ridiculous Johnson-era vanity project that was the Emirates Air Line, it seems improbable that TfL will allow any more corporate-flavoured information pollution. There will be no “Nike Stadium” station on the way to Enfield, much as there is no “Emirates” on the way to Cockfosters, especially if public consultation gets a look in.

The scene of the crime. Image: TfL.

But there’s a problem with the new name, all the same. “White Hart Lane” already means “football stadium”, in the same way Loftus Road or Stamford Bridge do. Changing it to “Tottenham Hotspur” risks opening the floodgates to an “O2 North Greenwich” or a “Virgin Euston” at some point in future, names as banal as there are dystopian. The Greater London Authority has promised to spend the £14.7m fee on community programmes in the local area – but that’s not much money to set the precedent that a private company can mess about with the Tube map.


What’s more, as CityMetric has often observed, there are plenty of station names across London that could do with a tidy up. Picking one that’s perfect already and asking for £14.7m to change it is adding insult to injury. How much would it cost a community group if they asked to change the name of Goodge Street to Fitzrovia? Why does a vast corporate entity backed by international sponsors and thousands of season ticket holders get to set the standard?

Back in Arsenal’s day, changing names on the Tube must have been easy; changes could be accommodated gradually without bothering the every day traveller. But in our world of online information, maps and apps, name changes are rather more complicated.

The question is – if TfL can bring itself to balefully accept this particular proposition, why can’t it accept ours? Why sort out a single non-issue on the Tube Map when you can catch lots of real ones in one go? A day’s pandemonium might just be a price worth paying to fix the Bethnal Greens problem once and for all.