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20% drop in public transport use predicted post-pandemic

Coronavirus: Public transport passengers could make far fewer trips after lockdown lifted, suggests SYSTRA survey

Mark Moran
27 April 2020
67% of respondents believe virtual meetings will replace some or all business trips or meetings
67% of respondents believe virtual meetings will replace some or all business trips or meetings


City transport authorities and operators could face a 20% fall in public transport use even after COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted, suggests a survey.

Passengers have told transport researchers SYSTRA that they will avoid journeys unless health concerns are taken seriously, with commuters ready to change their working travel habits. Two-thirds of respondents said that online meetings would replace some or all of physical meetings.

The results are from a representative survey of 1,500 adult residents across the UK that was undertaken between 8-14 April 2020. 

“A drop of 20% equates to 5 million fewer trips being made every single day, most of them in and out of our major towns and cities,” said Neill Birch, Director of Public Transport, SYSTRA. “Our research highlights the need for the public transport sector to think hard and plan ahead to be ready for when travel restrictions are lifted. Public transport operators must reassure nervous passengers by communicating very clearly about their hygiene regimes, driver and passenger responsibilities. A national campaign may well be required.”

The survey found that 20% of respondents predict making fewer trips by public transport after travel restrictions are lifted rising to 27% for those who use rail to commute.

Of those expecting to reduce their use of public transport, 49% will do so because of concerns over getting ill. Some 24% said they will work from home more often, and 14% said they have found another way of making their journey. 

Some 17% of full and part time workers believe they will work from home far more once COVID-19 travel restrictions are lifted. Reasons cited were saving the commute time and cost and wanting a better work-life balance.

New ways of home working developed during lockdown may become the norm. And 67% of respondents believe virtual meetings will replace some or all business trips or meetings.

Katie Hall, Director Travel Behaviour at SYSTRA, said: “Our climate emergency has not been cancelled. There is no doubt that this situation has opened up different ways of working for many, but if people start rejecting public transport over the car for work and leisure trips that’s a massive step backwards. Public transport operators must rise to this challenge.”

SYSTRA is undertaking further behavioural modelling to understand the wider impacts of the COVID-19 for UK cities and regions.

Chris Pownall, Business Development Director, SYSTRA, added. “When we go ‘back to normal’ we won’t go back to the old normal. Instead we'll enter a new ‘new normal’ where many people realise that they have more choice about where they work, how they get to work and how they conduct their day-to-day business. Travel patterns will have changed. Indisputably this is a call to action for policy makers and public transport operators, who must adapt and create new approaches and partnerships.”

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