Working in partnership with London TravelWatch

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

27 May 2020

Next steps for public transport

What’s it like using public transport in these weird times? How do people feel about stepping back onto a bus or a train after lockdown? Is everyone just using cars now?

We’ve been talking to about 2000 people a week to find out their thoughts and experiences of travel during and after lockdown. The survey results are published weekly on our website and you may have seen some of the media coverage or heard me talking about it on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme last week.

The people we survey give us comments as well as answering questions, so we are analysing those responses and will share what we have learned from them soon.

We’ve heard lots from people on face coverings on bus, tram and rail. In time, as passenger numbers rise, peer pressure may come into play with this. No-one will tolerate someone sitting next or near to them if they are not wearing a mask. As with smoking or seatbelts it’s societal pressure that will really make a difference, backed up by what Government mandates or legislates for.

Some wonder whether public transport could be offered some sort of dispensation from the two-metre rule. Unless the scientific advice changes it’s hard to see this happening – why just public transport? Why not other enclosed spaces? Also, there’s a real risk here of a two-tier society. People who are using public transport now are either doing it because they need to or because they’ve accepted their own risk assessment! Generally, it looks and feels like those who have to use it are those who have fewer choices of transport – the Government cannot risk them being treated differently.

So, I suspect we are to stick with the Government guidelines according to where you are. Until that changes it’s down to industry messaging and personal acceptance of risk.

A one-metre social distancing rule mitigated by the requirement to wear a face covering could be tested – it is being used in South East Asia and elsewhere.

Meanwhile we have been thinking about how to create the feedback loop we normally have access to when people are travelling regularly. So few people are using public transport that there is not enough data in our weekly omnibus. We need to track over time how people are feeling about public transport and why. Was it OK? If so, why? Not good? Why?

However, we are using the comments I mentioned earlier, plus looking at some social media analysis, to see if we can build up a picture of how things are really working. We are also thinking about some diary feedback from individuals to get some insight in the meantime.

Last week we asked train companies to make sure that their websites are crystal clear on various points. This is all about providing reassurance and giving confidence to passengers starting to travel again as the lockdown eases. There’s been a good response to this so far: various train companies including Abellio group, Chiltern, CrossCountry, Heathrow Express, LNER, ScotRail and Southeastern. We’ll have a look at all train company websites next week and report on progress. Of course, it’s not just rail passengers who have questions and want reassurance before they start travelling again. We’ll also be in touch with bus companies and transport authorities asking them to check that their websites are clear on key points and, although there will be different things on road users’ minds, we’ll be asking motorway services operators to do the same.

This will be important as public transport fills up. Restoring services will be for nothing if numbers get to a point where people start to feel uncomfortable and stay away again.

Tracking this and feeding it back to Government throughout is key. They need to know the ‘temperature’ out there if public transport is ever going to be seen as safe again.

 

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