Transport User Voice – September 2020 – How to get passengers back

27 August 2020

Incentives are needed to encourage use

Transport Focus is continuing to respond to the coronavirus pandemic and ensure transport users’ needs are heard.

Our Travel during Covid-19 survey shows a clear trend for a gradual increase in public transport usage, while road use appears to now be levelling off after growing steadily over many weeks. The big question now is what will happen in September when it’s expected that more schools will fully reopen and more people may return to travelling for work.

The key theme being established in the survey is the gap between the experience of passengers and the perceptions of non-users. Do people think public transport is more or less safe, in terms of the coronavirus, than other places such as shops, restaurants or pubs?

The majority viewed it as equally safe but there were some big differences between those who use the service and those who don’t. Two in five of those who haven’t used public transport in the last seven days think it is less safe than visiting a shop pub or restaurant, compared with only one in five of those who have travelled.

It is clear that public transport operators will have to work hard to tempt people back and encourage them to try out the experience for themselves. This is why last week we pushed for a Head Out to Help Out campaign – more here. Public transport operators and Governments will need to look at incentives and other offers designed to get people back on board. This is vital not just for the sustainability of public transport, but for the wider economy which relies on people getting out and about.

It’s not just about incentives of course – there is a continuing need to reassure people and to tell them what is being done to make travel safe. We’re now getting insight from bus users on our Transport User Community too. The early themes have been about the significant impact of the pandemic on their lives. Some are facing economic hardship as a result of the pandemic and as a lower cost transport option, the bus will act as a lifeline. Almost six months into the pandemic people report feeling isolated and indicate that the bus provides vital links to work, shops and appointments for those who have no other option. Bus was also seen as a reliable and reasonably safe way of travelling but there was still anxiety over the ability to maintain social distancing and the wearing of face coverings. These anxieties were higher in those who had yet to make a bus journey than in those currently travelling.

“I’d need to know how frequently the buses are running, how many people will be allowed on and if there’ll be a cap of passengers – and that everyone will be wearing face masks.” Female, 24, Yorks and Humber

“I think for a long time, I’ll be asking my husband to drive me anywhere I want to go. I’m hoping that I’ll become more confident with socialising with friends and visiting shops.” Female, 63, Scotland.

Key to providing passengers with reassurance is information from transport operators and providers, to give passengers confidence that they are being proactive and addressing their concerns. Transport Focus has been working to ensure people travelling by road, train, tram and bus – possibly for the first time since lockdown – have the information they need. We’ve been asking transport operators to put themselves in the shoes of somebody who hadn’t travelled for three months. We’ve now completed our assessments of trainbus and transport authority and motorway service area operators. All have driven change, with improvements to information in response to our audits. Thank you to those who have listened and made changes to their websites.


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