Transport User Voice – September 2020 – Director’s editorial

27 August 2020

More uncertainty but public transport is safe

As I draft this editorial, news is breaking of the further Covid-19 related restrictions placed on the residents of Blackburn, Pendle and Oldham. These ‘local lockdowns’ may sadly be around for some time. The impacts specifically on those who use and operate public transport in these areas will mean a return to ‘essential only travel’ appearing again as part of everyday language of travel information.

Our travel during Covid-19 work continues to move at pace as we publish the results from the weekly omnibus and transport user ‘tracker’ reports allied to the now more regular outputs from our rail user community. The evidence from these exciting, rich new sources is helping to shape both short-term and longer-term planning for transport provision across Great Britain as we continue to successfully engage with Governments, transport authorities and operators.

An emerging theme is clearly the gap between the perception of using public transport and the actual reality. Safety seems to be at the heart of this and our work has shown there is a big gap between those travelling and those who are not. Those who haven’t travelled are fearful while those who have taken the plunge have seen the safety measures that have been taken mean there’s nothing to be scared of.

It is clear that public transport operators will have to work hard at changing perceptions. And it still seems as if the best way of doing this is to tempt people back and let them see for themselves. Timing will be key – it is going to be hard to do this while in the midst of local lockdowns. But at some point, operators will need to start looking at incentives and other offers designed to get people back on board.

Our ‘Fairer fares: the future of rail commuting’ report seemed to strike a chord. It not only highlighted how we feel the railway can attract people back to services, but also addressed the longer-term challenge of getting people back to levels of commuting that will support the nation’s economy. I want to put on record my thanks to the team at Transport Focus for the extensive national media exposure that we attracted and the ensuing debate that we will now maintain with Government and the rail industry.

With all the recent focus on exam results it’s easy to forget that, in England and Wales, schools are due to open again in early September (those in Scotland have already done so). This can be a stressful experience for children and parents (and quite probably teachers too) but this year it will be especially so.

It also marks another milestone moment for public transport, especially for buses which traditionally cater for the bulk of the home to school market. A huge amount of work has been going on to help ensure that services are ready and can cope with the projected jump in demand. Students will have to get used to the new way of travelling, and existing passengers will have to get used to a sudden influx of new people on their usual service. It will need a bit of give and take on both parts. We will be monitoring passenger reaction.

We also monitored passenger reactions to planned engineering works at King’s Cross, scheduled to take place next year. The works involve temporarily closing individual tracks and platforms at the station, affecting rail services. Our research was conducted before the full effects of the Covid-19 pandemic were known, which may have some impact on passenger preferences, but the results still give a good indication of what passengers favour when it comes to managing disruption. Our research report on this will be published soon.

Finally, on behalf of Transport Focus, our thoughts and condolences are with those involved in the tragic accident at Stonehaven, Aberdeenshire.


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