Katy Taylor: Public transport must adapt for a post-Covid future

The old way in which we used to travel is gone. Gone are the days of being stuck in somebody’s armpit on the commute to London Bridge or being packed on an early morning bus to work. We need to adapt for the future of transport and give passengers the confidence to get back on board. 

In the years following the SARS crisis in Hong Kong in 2003, public transport operators never reduced any of the cleaning regimes that they brought in during the pandemic. We’re continuing to install hand sanitisers on our buses and regularly sanitise key touch points. Enhanced cleaning regimes will continue to make us feel safe as we get back on board – and may help to reduce the spread of other bugs and colds, too. 

Overcoming fears of public transport is critical to a sustainable future. People who have gone back on one journey since the lockdown have enjoyed the experience and found services to be clean and reliable with plenty of space. Influencers, decision makers and politicians should be travelling by bus and rail as this will encourage others to do the same.  

There is a large body of evidence indicating that the infection risks on public transport are very low compared with other activities. Dr Julian Tang, a professor of respiratory sciences at Leicester University has said that safety measures imposed on public transport around the world had made them ‘the safest places on earth'. 

We need to start working out the on-board experience that customers are going to tolerate and what they are going to want when coming out of the pandemic. People might not necessarily be travelling in on the morning or evening peak in the large quantities as before, but public transport still plays an integral role – whether you’re hopping on the bus to go to lunch or going in for a meeting on the train. 

At one point during the pandemic, with so few passengers on board, it was £100 per journey of taxpayer’s money that was going into the railway. As a taxpayer I certainly don’t think that’s good value for money, and I’m pretty sure nobody else will either.    

These are challenging times but looking ahead we will need to encourage customers back off cars and onto buses and trains, to demonstrate value for money. Our fares and ticketing system before weren’t suited to the 21st century, let alone post-pandemic. We need to massively accelerate that and develop relevant ticketing solutions for passengers. 

This blog post is adapted from quotes provided to the Transport Times: