Transport User Voice – June 2020 – New Government guidelines on travel

27 May 2020

Partnership is key as restrictions are relaxed

On 12 May the Government issued new guidance for travel in England, setting out how people can travel safely. Scotland and Wales chose not to ease their lockdowns at the same time and the ‘stay at home message’ remained in place for a couple more weeks.

The Scottish Government has since published a route map which sets out a phased approach to ease the lockdown. The Welsh Government has also published its ‘roadmap’ with a traffic light approach to easing restrictions. The timescale is yet to be confirmed but it is expected to start in late May.

As some restrictions in England eased, people were still urged to work from home where they can, only travel when necessary and then to consider walking, cycling and driving rather than use public transport.

This reflects the limited capacity on trains, buses and trams if social distancing is to be maintained. According to some operators there’s only space for one in 10 of those who used to travel by public transport – meaning the other nine now have to find some other way. Even as more services are provided (rail services were increased on 18 May) capacity will still be much less than before the virus.

However understandable, this message could undo years of promoting public transport. To help minimise the long-term impact it will be essential that the reason is properly communicated. It isn’t a case of public transport being inherently unsafe – it is about keeping the limited space available for those who have no other alternatives.

Many people do not have access to a car – on bus, for instance, our research shows that around half of people had no alternative to the bus. Many key workers rely on public transport to get to work, as do many people with a disability.

For all those who have to use public transport, the guidance recommends:

  • keeping two metres apart from others wherever possible
  • wearing a face covering if you can
  • using contactless payment where possible
  • avoiding rush hour travel where feasible
  • washing or sanitising your hands as soon as possible before and after travel
  • following advice from staff and being considerate to others.

Many passengers will welcome this advice on face coverings. In our weekly research over half the people surveyed said they wouldn’t be happy using public transport unless people wore masks. While covering your face is guidance, not a legal requirement, the expectation seems to be that strong encouragement, coupled with peer pressure, will be enough to achieve a high level of compliance.

This is a good example of where in transport, as in other walks of life, partnership is going to be key as restrictions are gradually relaxed. In this case it means a partnership between government, the transport industry and passengers.

Governments need to be clear who can travel and for what purpose – that’s now set out for this first tentative stage of relaxation. Transport operators need to make it crystal clear what passengers should expect, including how they’ll help people keep two metres apart. Our blog set out many of the questions that people have. Passengers also need to play their part by following social distancing guidelines and covering their faces, giving reassurance to others – passengers and transport staff – that they’ll be safe even when keeping a two-metre distance isn’t possible.

We mustn’t forget roads either. The guidance emphases the need to plan journeys, including breaks, before setting out and to anticipate more pedestrians and cyclists being out than usual. Even simple things like filling up with petrol or stopping at motorway services has become more complicated. With more people switching to driving there will also be a continued need for updates on congestion and routes to avoid.

Providing clear, consistent and accurate information across all modes will be key.


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