Transport User Voice – October 2020 – How do people feel about travelling

29 September 2020

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Transport users need to feel confident and safe. Our latest research sheds new light on what transport providers can do to help more passengers feel safe on public transport during Covid-19.

There are signs that people are once again expecting to travel less. Even before the latest restrictions were announced last week, our latest Travel during Covid-19 survey revealed that fewer people expect to travel by bus or train in the next month. At this uncertain time, the industry needs to concentrate its efforts on boosting confidence in public transport.

When we asked our Transport User Community to compare their perceptions of risk between public transport and places such as restaurants, there were notable differences. Transport users said that in the hospitality industry, for example, they have been told about the measures being taken to keep them safe and then they see it in action. This can be seen in overt demonstrations of cleanliness, disposable menus, contact-tracing, social distancing and one-way systems – users said they don’t all perceive that public transport operators are doing similar things.

In-depth analysis of our Covid-19 tracker found the key concerns highlighted by the substantial minority on public transport were:

  • other passengers can’t be trusted to follow ‘the rules’ on wearing face coverings and social distancing and there is not enough being done to ensure compliance
  • passengers have no control once on board a bus or train, being ‘trapped’ in an enclosed space with limited ventilation or realistic opportunity to leave
  • based on their previous experience public transport just isn’t clean enough, contrasted unfavourably with places such as restaurants where they see visible, frequent cleaning by staff.

This analysis shows that transport users clearly feel more needs to be done to make sure passengers are complying with the rules on face coverings. That said, it is important that those who are exempt from wearing a face covering are not disadvantaged by any ramp up of enforcement or feel ‘under attack’. Similarly, more efforts are needed to ensure passengers are reassured that cleaning has been significantly enhanced. In a restaurant you can see tables being cleaned between customers – how can public transport operators similarly be seen to be cleaning buses and trains in plain sight?

Our latest insight once again demonstrates the importance of clear and up-to-date information in making transport users – and crucially, potential transport users – feel safe.

One increasingly important piece of information is how busy a bus or train will be. We asked rail passengers on our Transport User Community for their views. The predictions for specific trains provided on some train companies’ websites and National Rail’s ‘keep me updated’ messenger tool are viewed positively by the community. However, the feedback from the rail community shows a strong desire for more widely available, specific and up-to-date information on how busy trains are and how easy it will be to maintain social distancing.

Our Travel during Covid-19 survey has consistently highlighted the difference in perceptions between those who have travelled and those who have not when it comes to safety. Eight in 10 bus passengers who have travelled in the last seven days say they felt safe, while less than four in 10 of those who have not travelled thought they would feel safe.

This perception gap was reinforced by some of the latest insight from the bus passengers on our Transport User Community. While they reported that other passengers may not adhere to face covering and social distancing rules as much as they would like, the consensus from those who have been travelling regularly is that bus travel is ‘not that bad’. They want to reassure others about the safety of the bus.

“I’d advise anyone that hasn’t been travelling to try and make the effort to get out, if you can. Do what makes you feel safe, but at least try and get out and about.” Female, 44, South East

For those who haven’t been travelling, these experiences relayed by their fellow participants in the community are largely reassuring. This is an example of the power of ‘word of mouth’ feedback. The more that can be done to ensure those who travel can relay reassuring experiences to others, the better for the long-term recovery of public transport.


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