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Back to school? The transport user view…

Lockdown restrictions are being slowly eased, but what will this mean for transport users?

We have now reached week four of Transport Focus’s ongoing research into travel habits and attitudes. The latest results, carried out over 22-24 May, continue to show that most people in England have not rushed back to work in great numbers. Many are still working from home and following advice to limit unnecessary journeys. However, they do suggest that road traffic levels are starting to creep up – for the fourth week in a row the proportion reporting traffic as ‘light’ has fallen again, with a rise in those saying traffic was ‘moderate’.

After four weeks we are also starting to see some differences emerge beneath these headline findings. Younger people, for instance, seem less risk averse about travelling by public transport. This may also be the case for those people who used to be regular users of public transport before the virus. This could bode well for the future as things begin to get back to normal – whatever that may look like. However, there is still a strong indication that people will change how they travel in future. Many say they will walk, cycle and drive more – it could involve a combination of modes, perhaps even a form of ‘park-and-ride’ involving cycling or walking. Many also say they will continue to work from home – the proportion of people saying they will do so has increased each week. Public transport operators will have to work hard to rebuild passenger numbers in the months, if not years, to come.

Safety remains at the forefront of peoples’ minds. As we have mentioned before people need to be confident that it is safe to travel and be sure about what they can expect on the day. Providing clear, consistent and accurate advice on things like timetables, cleaning regimes and how social distancing will work is key to this.

One particular issue at the moment is face coverings – an issue we’ve also covered recently. Our survey shows strong support for the idea of face coverings being worn on public transport – just over 60 per cent thinking it should be a requirement. Interestingly this contrasts with the actual numbers of people wearing one while travelling – estimates put this at about 25 per cent.

Why is there such a difference? Is it because services aren’t too busy at present so people can space out, or because people feel a bit awkward wearing one if no one else is, or simply because people don’t know where to get hold of one or how to make one?

There isn’t a clear answer right now. But, in England, from 1 June more children will be returning to school, groups of up to six people will be able to meet outside and on 15 June some non-essential shops will reopen. As passenger volumes rise as a result it will be interesting to see how attitudes change; will peer pressure make it more likely that people wear face coverings?

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