Transport User Voice – August 2020 – Chief executive’s editorial

28 July 2020

Is it safe? A slow return to public transport

The Government’s announcement setting out that using public transport is now considered OK (assuming you have considered other options) was a watershed. The cry for a clear, consistent message from us and others has been heeded.

However, as traffic levels continue to rise there are several big barriers that will slow, if not stifle, a return to mass public transport as our insight work shows. Those of us who can work from home largely like it – commuting was never that much fun. Members of our new rail community say this has been one of the few positives during a difficult period when they’ve been faced with anxieties about work, finances and family.

Our Travel during Covid-19 survey has shown that those travelling are generally happy with their journey – but concerns over the actions of others (particularly not wearing face coverings) means many do not yet feel safe enough to return to using public transport. Not to mention the price of rail can be prohibitive – a daily open, peak return can be eye-wateringly expensive, as can some adult bus fares. Finally, the offices we will return to at some point are not the offices we left – taped, screened and sanitised – the watercooler chat has gone.

So, we are now working to reduce some of these barriers – in particular, feelings about safety and price. We’ll be continuing to look at this through our weekly survey which has now joined our standing Transport User Panel in providing rich feedback. Our new online ‘community’ focus groups are allowing us to dig deep into these issues – discussing transport in the context of feelings about the virus generally. And our ‘tastes’ of social media add colour, quotes and images.

We focused on bus passengers at our recent public Board meeting. Graham Vidler from the bus trade body Confederation of Passenger Transport, Jane Cole from Blackpool Transport, Glyn Williams from Cornwall County Council and Jonathan Bray from Urban Transport Group spoke and debated with the Transport Focus Board and the public about the future of bus services. Amazing, in the circumstances that bus ridership is up to around a third of pre-Covid-19 levels.

Better information using data and app technology has been deployed so passengers can better plan and travel with more confidence. They can track seat and wheelchair availability on their bus, even seeing when it was last cleaned!

Encouraging to hear that outside of London, 90 per cent of fares can now be collected by contactless payment. But cash is still important for many and the industry needs to work carefully with this vital group of passengers. Discussion about who should specify, own and run services and the key issue of value for money all provided rich debate. You can watch the meeting here.


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