Transport User Voice – November 2020 – What makes passengers feel safe?

27 October 2020

Views from our transport user community

Our latest Travel during Covid-19 survey shows that fewer people have been travelling by train or bus in recent weeks. Hardly surprising as restrictions have tightened. Despite this, around four in five passengers still say they feel safe – it’s very important those who are travelling continue to feel this way.

We know that key factors in helping passengers feeling safe include the ability to social distance, the wearing of face coverings and high standards of cleanliness. This month we have dug deeper with our Transport User Communities into what else transport providers can do to help passengers feel safe. This includes focussing on the role of staff, and exploring views on scientific evidence about the risk posed by Covid-19 on public transport.

Role of staff

Over the years Transport Focus has carried out a huge amount of research with a consistent message that passengers like and value having staff around. We asked our Transport User Community about the role of staff on public transport now. They told us that, if anything, Covid-19 has added a new dimension to their role – one of reassuring passengers that rail and bus is safe to use.

I believe staff do play a big role in the future safety of the rail network. Without staff I would not, and do not, feel totally safe. They’re a human deterrent and reassure passengers, and offer advice if needed.” Female, 64, Wales

However, passengers didn’t always feel staff were as visible or proactive in challenging lapses in social distancing or rules on face coverings as they would have wanted. This is not a case of ‘having a go’ at staff. The research shows that people understand how difficult it is for those in the front line.

I feel sorry for bus drivers as they can’t tell everyone at every stop to wear a mask – it just isn’t fair because they are far too open to abuse. I don’t know what the solution is here.” Female, 65, south east.

Some felt that the police had a bigger role in enforcement – though it was equally recognised that you couldn’t have a police officer everywhere. Our bus community members wondered whether bus drivers needed some help – it being hard enough to drive the bus without having to make sure passengers follow the rules as well. No one is pretending that this is an easy problem to solve but it’s equally clear that the reassuring presence of staff has never been more important.

Scientific evidence

We know many people are apprehensive about using public transport but can scientific evidence that the risks are low encourage people to get back on board?

We showed our Transport User Community the Rail Safety and Standards Board’s published findings about the estimated risk of Covid-19 infection on rail. The community was glad to see that scientific analysis of risk existed and appreciated that it was coming from an independent impartial body and felt informed, rather than ‘pushed’ towards travelling.

This is interesting. I do feel that the calculations and conclusions are valid, and presented in a reasonable way…I would have thought that the risk would have been higher than the estimates given here, and reading the information presented is generally reassuring.” Female, 32, Newport

However, people’s pre-existing perceptions on the risk of travelling influenced how they interpreted the report, with some taking issue with aspects of the methodology or trustworthiness of the findings. For a small group of people, there is no tolerable risk threshold for Covid-19 transmission, so they will avoid rail until there is a vaccine.

The risk of infection is good odds if you’re betting with money. But I’m not betting with money. Travelling by rail exposes me to a virus that could kill me and my family.” Male, 57, South East

Others do not feel they have a choice about whether or not to travel at the moment due to personal circumstances and have to accept the risk as it is without needing this level of detail to inform them.

We also showed the report to our bus community who responded positively and would like to see similar information applied to bus.

Overall, while people felt it was important information to have, and it did provide some comfort, it did not change the mind of any passengers already predisposed against travelling by bus or rail. The transport industry must continue to demonstrate it is doing its utmost to ensure passengers are safe by taking visible, proactive measures to reduce the spread of coronavirus.


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