Easing lockdown: what people think about social distancing on public transport

02 July 2021

“I sat on a train where there were people standing in the aisles, I’ve had a jab but I still felt anxious about it… and people were not wearing their masks properly.” Younger male passenger

This is just one of comments Transport Focus heard in its latest research into how people feel about social distancing on public transport.

We wanted to understand what people think about social distancing on public transport now, and if restrictions were to be lifted. We’ve used this to help inform the government’s social distancing review.

Significantly, even if the Government lifted all restrictions, some said that they would not rush to change their cautious behaviours – they would wait and see.

Many expect some social distancing measures such as wearing of face masks to remain on public transport for some time.

In Transport Focus’s latest Travel during Covid-19 survey half of people say they won’t use public transport unless social distancing is in place. Almost two in five people that used public transport in the last week say they won’t use it unless social distancing is in place.

In the focus groups, when pressed, people generally accepted that keeping social distancing on public transport will become increasingly difficult. If they have to make a journey, such as to get to work on time, people said they would be more likely to accept reduced social distancing.

In the survey three in five people said they won’t use public transport unless passengers are required to wear face coverings.

Earlier in June we also asked people to consider if they would wear face coverings on public transport three months from now. Almost three in 10 say they will only wear a face covering if it is a requirement, while more than four in 10 say they will wear one at all times on public transport even if it is not a requirement.

Anthony Smith, Transport Focus chief executive, said:

“While views on easing social distancing are divided, this research shows many passengers plan to continue to wear face coverings for some time to come.

“As restrictions ease it’s important that people’s first journey back on public transport is a good one. To maintain passengers’ confidence transport operators must provide clear information and be straight with passengers when services are expected to be busy so they can make an informed choice.”

Social distancing: what passengers say

“I am a bit apprehensive about it, so when I do go I’ll make sure I don’t travel in peak times to give me peace of mind… I’m just a bit nervous at the moment, but I have had my two jabs which gives you a bit of confidence.” Female/Older

“Now that the majority of people who would have suffered are vaccinated, I’d be a lot more comfortable cracking on and getting on with life… it’s time to get back to normal now.” Male/Younger

“I’ll stick with public transport, it’s so much quicker… I’ll happily travel on public transport.” Female/Younger

“Now that restrictions are lifting it’s hard to socially distance, if you’re trying to avoid people it’s hard because they’re not in the same frame of mind.” Male/Older

Transport Focus will continue to speak to people throughout the summer to track their attitudes to any change in restrictions and as more people return to public transport.

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