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Home working a threat to public transport

Home Working

24 July 2020

Public transport operators face long-term funding challenges as people appear unlikely to return to commuting to work five days a week when the Covid-19 pandemic ends, says Transport for Greater Manchester. 

Stephen Rhodes, TfGM’s customer director, told councillors: “TfGM’s own survey found that half of workers think, once travel restrictions ease, they will change their commute frequency, with train and tram commuter frequency the least likely to return to normal.  

“Only 56 per cent of those who did commute by tram for five or more days a week intend to travel the same way and with the same frequency. 

“Ultimately this intelligence suggests it is unlikely that public transport patronage and revenues will return to their pre-Covid-19 levels in the short or medium term, and so there will be a requirement for continuing, likely significant, public sector financial support in Greater Manchester and elsewhere, from a combination of both local and national funds.”

The rail industry is planning to  increase rail services nationwide in September to near normal levels. But Transport for the North officers said this month that there was a “risk that rail usage will take a long time to recover due to the current capacity restrictions and reduced confidence of passengers”.

This would have “lasting financial impacts and make it harder to make the case for investment”. 

“If rail demand remains suppressed for a significant period, it becomes increasingly uneconomic, and we risk facing a managed decline – as experienced in the 1980s and early 1990s.” 

Analysis of mobile phone data by the Centre for Cities think tank on behalf of The Times suggests that higher proportions of people are returning to work in smaller cities than larger cities. 

“Workers in the biggest cities are the least likely to have returned amid fears over the risk of long commutes on public transport,” said the newspaper. “The ten biggest cities have seen only 14 per cent of staff go back compared with 30 per cent in cities such as Gloucester, where workers are much more likely to drive to the office.” 

It reported that Royal Bank of Scotland staff can continue working from home until at least September and Edinburgh-based Standard Life Aberdeen staff can work from home until the end of the year. EY will reopen offices on 7 September but with reduced capacity and employees returning on a voluntary basis and with a desk booking system, said The Times.

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