While we know public transport use and travel overall and has been much reduced during the pandemic, uncertainty remains around how people’s travel needs and habits will change once the restrictions on travel begin easing, compared to how they used to travel before the pandemic. To better understand this, we commissioned a public poll of over 2,000 people by Savanta ComRes.
The survey found private cars were the main way of travelling before the Covid-19 pandemic and they are expected to remain the dominant form of transport when restrictions begin to ease, with approximately half of UK adults choosing driving for personal matters (52%), leisure (54%) and shopping (50%). This is a slight increase on their habits pre-pandemic. The proportion of people who expect to use the car for the school run or other education purposes has also increased slightly from 19 per cent to 22 per cent post-pandemic. Conversely, there is a slight decrease in the proportion of people who expect to use buses or trains for different purposes (see chart).
This largely resonates with Transport Focus’ findings that 60 per cent of those who used public transport regularly before March 2020 agree that they will use public transport as much, or more than they did previously when enough people have been vaccinated. This demonstrates that people would choose the best mode for the specific journey they are making. However, this choice is likely to be affected by the kinds of journeys people need to make in the future, with Government messaging on the different permitted activities going forward and ongoing vaccination rates also playing a large role.
Another factor is the recent increases of online shopping and remote working, which are expected to continue to some extent, meaning that people’s overall need to make different journeys is likely to be reduced.
According to our survey, a significant to shift towards working from home can be expected compared to pre-pandemic. It found that, while half (51%) of all those in employment were working full-time entirely from their place of work before the Covid-19 pandemic, just 39 per cent plan to do so after Covid-19 restrictions begin to ease. On the other hand, the proportion who say they plan to work from home at least some of the time has risen from 35 per cent who did this before the Covid-19 pandemic to 47 per cent.
Encouraging people back on to public transport
Our survey also tested a number of measures which people say would encourage them to use public transport more (see chart). While less crowding features as the most important factor among survey respondents, affordability is also a central concern for passengers. The survey found a total of 47 per cent of respondents who are in part-time or full-time employment expect they would work from home at least some of the time after Covid-19 restrictions begin to ease. While a similar proportion intend to travel to work by train as before the pandemic, lack of affordable fare options for part-time commuters might become a problem for people looking to return to the office.
A total of 29 per cent of respondents would like to see cheaper single or day tickets and 17 per cent would be encouraged back to public transport by more affordable prepaid bundles (e.g. discounted tickets for travelling 2-3 days a week that you buy in advance). Unless more flexible and affordable ticketing options are available for people wishing to travel part time, there is a danger that they will shift to making the journey by car or prefer to remain working from home entirely, thereby slowing down the economic recovery of town centres.
* e.g. discounted tickets for travelling 2-3 days/week bought in advance; **e.g. free travel or 50% off for a limited period of time; ***e.g. being able to pay for all journeys by 'touching in' with a card.
Other measures that can increase people’s use of public transport included better routes (29%), more frequent (26%) and punctual (22%) services, and quicker journey times (20%). In addition to more affordable fares therefore, the Government must reform bus and train provision over the long term to ensure it is the convenient, reliable and affordable option that people want it to be to enable them to leave their cars behind.
As travel restrictions ease, the Government should act to encourage people back to public transport. Seventeen per cent of survey respondents said that temporary promotions, such as free travel or 50 per cent off for a limited period of time, would encourage them to increase their use of public transport.
Worryingly, however, the survey revealed that a fifth (20%) of respondents say nothing would currently encourage them to increase their use of public transport, rising to 29 per cent among those aged 55 and over. This shows that the Government still has a long way to go in getting its messaging right and reversing the damage done during the pandemic to the perceived safety of public transport.
Savanta ComRes interviewed 2,129 UK adults online between 5th and 7th March 2021. Data were weighted to be demographically representative of UK adults by a number of factors including gender, age, region, social grade. Savanta ComRes is a member of the British Polling Council and abides by its rules. Full data tables can be viewed here.