Associate feature: Build back better for transport users
The COVID-19 pandemic has had such a major im- pact on every facet of our lives, including travel, that it’s easy to overlook the ongoing work to deliver im- provements to Scotland’s transport system in these challenging times.
The National Transport Strategy 2 (NTS2) was published at the beginning of the year, the Rail Services Decarbonisation Action Plan followed in July and the £500m Bus Partnership Fund launches this month. This ongoing work will enable Scotland to build back better, but the impact on transport users must be taken onboard to cement the building of Scotland’s transport system.
The legacy this crisis leaves for how people travel and use public transport in future must also be considered. At Transport Focus we have been using our weekly COVID-19 survey, running since April, to build up insight into how people think their travel habits will change. This has been augmented by the establishment of Transport User Communities on bus, rail and road to provide more delib- erative and detailed group discussions on future aspects of travel.
The findings present a challenge for both government and transport operators. Some people say they will switch to more active travel modes such as walking and cycling - good news for the NTS2 sustainable travel goals. Less good for that agenda is the higher number of people saying they will drive more in future.
The proportion of people working from home has increased slowly over time from nine per cent in 1999 to 16 per cent in 2019. However, over a period of seven months our survey revealed a consistent trend: around half of respondents said they expect to work from home more often in the future, saying their job will be homebased with limited travel to their workplace. This suggests that the national experiment in working from home will lead to a long-term shift.
Our weekly tracker survey also shows that the proportion of those avoiding using public transport, or not feeling safe doing so, has generally fallen over time, but has risen again recently as the impact of new lockdowns take effect. The main reasons public transport is not being used are:
- because I had no reason to make a journey using public transport
- because I don’t feel safe using public transport at the moment
- I have used a car/van instead
- because I have been avoiding public transport.
The findings also present an opportunity. We conducted insight asking over 20,000 bus and rail passengers to rank a series of improvements to their bus and rail service in order of priority. Improved frequency and punctuality came out as a top priority on both modes, along with improved value for money. While passengers may not realistically expect prices to drop, they do expect the basic promises of the industry to be met in return for their fares, along with tickets that meet their needs.
The Bus Partnership Fund presents an opportunity to deliver on bus priority measures that tackle congestion and improve punctuality and frequency.
For years, Transport Focus’s passenger research has made the case that the need to radically reform and improve rail fares is overwhelming. The system is underpinned by regulations that are largely unchanged from the mid-1990s. Meanwhile, the world has changed - passenger journeys are down by 80 per cent.
This too presents an opportunity. The railway needs a 21st century retail offer. Post-COVID-19, the railway is going to have to work hard to reassure and attract passengers. We are all going to need the railway to succeed in this if, as a society, we are to meet the challenge of climate change. A simple, easy and trustworthy fares structure can unlock the railway’s potential. Amid the understandable attention on the impact of COVID-19, we should not lose sight of the opportunity to build back better for transport users.
David Sidebottom is director ofTransport Focus.
This piece was sponsored by Transport Focus.