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Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Passenger confidence will be key factor in future transport planning

Research undertaken by transport planning consultant Systra suggests that train travel could be very different in a post-Covid world.

The current advice to avoid public transport could have far-reaching implications on the way we travel, long after the Covid-19 lockdown ends. Carbon emissions will increase if people avoid public transport due to ongoing safety concerns and permanently switch to car usage instead.

Key findings from a representative survey of 1,500 adult UK residents undertaken between 4th-12th June 2021 include:

  • 39% predict they will make fewer public transport trips once all Covid-19 travel restrictions are lifted than before lockdown. When the same question was asked in April this year, 20% of the public predicted a decline in their public transport use.
  • 65% of those predicting a decline in use say they will replace their public transport trips with the car (either as a driver or passenger); 46% say they will walk more, 12% will cycle more and 11% will no longer make the journey.
  • The introduction of a vaccine would reassure 37% of those who are predicting a decline in usage, who would go back to using public transport as before.
  • Over the next month, the use of safety measures would make 68% feel safer to travel on public transport, with the most reassuring being: limiting the number of people that can board, access to hand sanitizer at stations/stops, deep-cleaning of the interiors of vehicles, stations and bus stops, and mandatory wearing of face coverings.

These findings suggest that, when appropriate, public transport operators and government will need to reassure passengers that public transport is a safe and environmentally friendly way of travelling. The recent change to social distancing guidelines to 1 metre may influence passenger perceptions of safety on public transport further.

However, the change in travelling choices may be further exacerbated as responses to other questions in the same survey suggest that nearly a third of office workers never want to return to the office at all.

In detail, 29% of office workers, expecting to stay in the same or similar role, no longer want to spend any time working from the office. UK employees are expecting a more flexible way of working once the Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

 Over half (55%) would like to change the times that they work, including their start/finish times, or work their hours across fewer days, compared with before Covid-19. UK employees are expecting to be able to make these changes, with 59% believing their employer will allow the changes they want, and 40% prepared to change jobs if not allowed.

The key findings were:

  • 29% of office workers never want to return to the office, instead wanting to work from home. Of those that commute by rail or bus, this increases to 32%.
  • 55% of UK workers would like to work more flexibly, including changing their start/finish times or working their hours across fewer days, compared with before Covid-19.
  • 37% of five-day-a-week office workers want to return to the same pattern.
  • 59% think it is likely their employer will let them make the changes they want to their work location or working patterns.
  • 40% think it is likely they will change jobs if their employer does not allow them to make the changes they want to.

These responses suggest that public transport operators will need to adapt and consider their ticketing products to meet new commuter behaviours, and the traditional peak/off-peak travel times may disappear. However, not everyone can or wants to adapt their working hours or location – those not office based are more likely to want to stay working at the same location, and many workers, including key workers, may have no flexibility over when or where they work.

Katie Hall, SYSTRA’s director of transport planning, said: “The scale of the challenge facing government and public transport operators should not be underestimated. Action must be taken now to prevent a potentially devastating impact on climate change should this switch from public transport to car happen.

“We must understand what people need to restore their confidence in public transport to get us on the path to net zero emissions.”

Evelyn Robertson, SYSTRA’s research lead, added: “Passenger intentions to stop using public transport even when safe to travel does not mean this future is set in stone. These findings highlight the importance of engaging with passengers to recognise the influences on their attitudes and behaviour – only then can we understand how to best inspire environmentally-friendly, convenient and safe transport choices.”

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