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North’s rail commuting ‘may escape Covid hit’

01 June 2020

Covid-19 may not have a big lasting impact on rail commuting in West Yorkshire, the combined authority has suggested. 

An officer report to councillors said it was impossible to know the timescale or magnitude of the impacts. “It is legitimate to ask both: (a) Will demand return, in the long run, to previous levels, and growth resume (b) Should we be seeking to return to the same service levels and patterns as previously?” 

Officers said a significant number of office workers were likely to work from home more frequently, “even if only for one or two days a week”. 

“On the face of it, this could reduce demand and crowding pressure on the busiest rail services, and could further damage their revenues. However, it is entirely possible that this easing will not last. Previous experience of adding capacity to our commuter network has shown that this unlocks demand that is currently suppressed from travelling by rail.

“Therefore in our region, where rail’s modal share is generally lower than in London and the South East and car use remains significant, we may well not see  the long-term demand drops that have been suggested around London: rather, the change will just ‘buy us time’ to address the chronic crowding issues.”

Turning to other types of journey, officers said that, in the short-term, “it seems likely that when travel restrictions are lifted, there will be a sharp uplift in leisure travel by all modes”. 

“In the longer term, there seems little reason to suppose that leisure travel will not resume its historic growth trends on rail,  particularly as attention re-focuses on the climate emergency – subject, it must be borne in mind, to the state of the wider economy.”

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