Transport User Voice – August 2020 – Will passengers be returning to transport?

28 July 2020

And looking at lessons learnt from lockdown

While advice on using public transport has now changed, will we see people flocking back? Our weekly travel during Covid-19 survey shows that, while there are signs more journeys are being made, many people are still keeping clear of public transport.

Some of this is wider than just transport – it is about giving people confidence and purpose to get out in the first instance. This has been recognised by the new ‘eat out to help out’ scheme for the hospitality sector. Some of it is about messaging (after being told for months to avoid public transport it’s hardly surprising if people have), while some just reflects the fact that there’s been no reason to travel while people work from home and venues have been shut.

We checked various sources of rail information in July and were worried about the conflicting messages we found. Some were issuing strong ‘essential travel only’ messages and in some cases saying ‘do not travel by train for leisure’. Others were gentler, simply advising people to ‘consider all other forms of transport’. We wrote to the Secretary of State for Transport, Grant Shapps MP, urging him to look at the consistency of messaging across government and industry. We argued that clear information is key to achieving a gradual and safe return of passengers to travel. We’re now checking the information being provided to bus passengers and to users of motorway service areas.

The Prime Minister’s announcement on 17 July has now provided clarity and consistency on who can travel in England. The overall picture is now clearer: you can now use public transport, but you must still wear a face covering unless exempt, follow the rules on social distancing and should avoid the busiest times if you can.

But will passengers return? Some are undoubtedly still worried about safety, so it is important that operators continue to reassure passengers about the efforts – cleaning, social distancing – that continue to be made to ensure that passengers are kept safe.

Many commuters will also be wondering whether they will return to the office or continue to work from home. But even if they do return will it be for the traditional five-day working week or will it be for two-three days a week? We have written to the Secretary of State renewing our call for flexible-season and ‘carnet’ tickets that cater for, and support, new patterns of work.


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