A reassuring stamp of approval?

24 March 2021

Can safety ‘kitemarks’ reassure nervous passengers in future?

The gradual, cautious, easing of restrictions has begun. Schools have welcomed back pupils and many people will be starting to think about what they might do with the greater freedom we all hope to enjoy later in the year. Some of these tentative plans could involve using public transport. However, our barometer shows at the moment most people not travelling by bus or train are still clear they wouldn’t feel safe.

Recently we showed our bus and rail communities examples of ‘Covid safe’ accreditation schemes used by some transport operators to try to demonstrate how they are working to keep passengers safe. We wanted to know, are these ‘stamps of approval’ valued?

The insight shows in principle passengers find the idea of accreditation reassuring. The Visit Britain ‘Good to go’ example we showed was seen to prove the transport operators were taking the pandemic seriously. ​Several passengers argued that the accreditation would increase their level of confidence in travelling once restrictions permit. Others were more sceptical that it could become a box-ticking exercise and wanted reassurance around how long the standard has to be maintained for, and how robust and thorough the checks were.

“But what concerns me is the long term as applying for this ‘Good to Go’ would only be for a point in time and applicable to a specific period. Standards may drop and external factors may affect how providers are rated in the future (if it is going to be an ongoing thing).​” Male, 33, South East, rail​

Another example, the Skytrax scheme used in the airline industry, was seen to be more robust as it requires in-person testing. However, the star rating system raised some confusion and questions about whether anything less than five stars was good enough.

“I think the safety rating is good and would make me feel reassured about measures companies are taking to keep customers safe. In some ways though, I would be concerned about airlines not achieving 4 or 5 stars so it might make me avoid travelling with airlines on a lower safety rating. It could be a good idea for buses or trains but I don’t have a choice of bus/train company so I’m not sure what I would do if my local company didn’t achieve a high rating.” Female, 37, Scotland, bus

We’re strong advocates of independent benchmarking. This is the principle behind all our tracker surveys, driving improvements for users by allowing operators to be compared with their peers. It’s understandable though that our community were reluctant to accept anything less than ‘five stars’ when it comes to Covid-19 and public transport.

It seems accreditation schemes – especially if robust and trusted – could play a supporting role in reassuring passengers when the time is right for people to return to travel. However, many people still perceive safety as an essentially binary ‘pass’ or ‘fail’. So, perhaps passengers would prefer an independent body with health or scientific credentials judged operators’ efforts? We’ll keep tracking perceptions as lockdown restrictions continue to ease and highlighting how confidence can be rebuilt.

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