Are Covid-19 fears changing travel habits?

14 May 2020

“I think that people will be very worried about using public transport again because of the virus.”

“I think there may be some confusion with what is and isn’t allowed.”

These are just some of the views of the 2000 people in the second wave of Transport Focus’s research into travel behaviours and attitudes.

The latest figures cover 8-10 May and, given that little had actually changed at that point, broadly reflect the results from week one. The majority of people were still not travelling, and when they did it mainly involved driving to the supermarket. There is still strong support for social distancing to be in place before people resume travelling on public transport, for masks/face coverings to be worn, and for hand sanitiser to be available.

People are also still saying they will change travel behaviours in future. 47 per cent of people who expressed an opinion said that they expect to work from home more in the future, while 63 per cent said they’d drive more and 54 per cent that they’d cycle and walk more.

It is hard to draw trends from only two sets of data but it does seem as if people are a bit more cautious one week on. There was an increase in the number of people who said that they’d only travel on public transport if social distancing was in place (up from 63 per cent to 70 per cent) and for wearing masks/face coverings (up from 51 per cent to 54 per cent). The proportion of people saying that they’d be happy to travel by public transport as soon as restrictions are relaxed has also dropped (from 24 per cent to 20 per cent).

Earlier this week there were several major announcements about the lockdown in England. More people are now able to go back to work, but this was accompanied by a very strong ‘only use public transport if you have no alternative’ message. This reflects the very limited capacity available if social distancing is to be maintained on trains, buses and trams, and the need for this space to be used by key workers and those who have no alternative – but it will be very interesting to see if and how the messaging has changed peoples’ attitudes and confidence levels.

People will naturally be nervous about travelling again. Building up confidence will require clear and consistent communication setting out what operators can provide and what passengers need to do. We will continue to make this point to transport providers and have also set out a list of key questions that need answers. We will also be checking what information is provided on websites and identifying good practice.

The third wave of our research will start to pick up passenger reactions to any easing of lockdown and the provision of information. It will be available next Thursday (21 May) – watch this space for more details…

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