Transport perspectives

A train travelling quickly at night
Posted on: March 11, 2021Posted by: Liz DavidsonComments: 0

Transport perspectives


The 3rd in our series of blogs by Vinita Nawathe

Suppliers can either provide what people want; or get people to want what they provide.

When it comes to transport, operators and policy makers need to understand who wants to travel where, when and why.

But it is also important to be clear about what policy makers and operators want to achieve through designing their transport provision.

Travel restrictions during the Covid-19 emergency have given us an opportunity to reset, consider and reappraise what we collectively want from our transport system – from all perspectives.

Attitudes to travelling

Covid restrictions have catalysed the already growing trends towards flexible working from home, online shopping and home delivery.

And these look likely to be lasting reasons for individuals to travel less. (The corollary being that last mile journeys for goods are increasingly being done by delivery drivers)

Recent research has shown that the traditional factors of convenience, cost and speed of journey still influence people’s mode choice.

However, the notion of safety has been expanded to include the fear of infection.

Ipsos Mori qualitative interviews conducted in Autumn 2020 confirmed that people saw cars as more covid-secure than public transport and more convenient and safer for longer distances, in poor weather or at night.

Transport Focus user community interviews in January 2021 reinforce messages that have been consistent since the first wave survey by Ipsos Mori for DfT; passengers who are reluctant to return to public transport lack assurance that passengers and staff will socially distance and wear facemasks.

While there is optimism about the vaccine rollout, concern about the behaviour of other passengers may have a slowing effect on the return to public transport.

Cleanliness and crowding on public transport may be legacy fears of the crisis, but many of those hardest hit by the Covid crisis response – younger people and people with lower incomes in particular, will continue to be dependent on public transport to get to work, education and leisure activities.

Perception is all, and as long as viruses continue to be transmitted in the general population, people will weigh up the risk of travelling by a transport mode against the necessity of making the journey.

Register for Putting Passengers First to learn how Esoterix’ technology generates accurate crowding predictions

Opportunity for operators

Before the pandemic, morning and evening rush hours were characterised by congested roads and overcrowded public transport.

Traditional work patterns and school times lead to surges of demand for travel between housing and employment places.

Meeting peak demand for infrastructure and services is expensive and inefficient, leaving transport assets under-utilised at other times of day, and leading to negative effects of congestion such as longer journey times and poorer air quality during the peak.

Demand management has traditionally focussed on price elasticity: relying on each individual’s personal cost benefit analysis to reduce or spread demand through charging more for congested times or routes (peak times, London central zones).

There are many flaws in the model including the unintended consequences of modal shift adding to congestion elsewhere or disproportionally affecting a socio-economic group.

The Covid-19 “work from home if you can” message has in one action removed the biggest hurdle to changing the work patterns which determine the peak – employer reluctance to change.

And while school times and many business core hours are likely to remain the same, there is a reset opportunity to encourage and manage a reduced and better spread demand.

Rather than chasing a return of pre-pandemic peaks and troughs, operators that understand their customers travel behaviours and motivations are well placed to nudge their swayable customers towards travel patterns for a more efficient service – making a better use of assets and managing crowding (or socially distanced capacity).

Smart cards and account-based ticketing can help enormously here, offering personalisation that can help balance demand and build trust around levels of crowding.

Register for Putting Passengers First to learn how Esoterix’ technology enables personlisation in rail services

Opportunities for policy makers

Covid-19 travel restrictions have shown the powerful influence of government decision making and its directions to the public can have on travel demand.

A year ago, the public were told to stay home, to make necessary journeys only and to avoid public transport, and they did.

Policy makers have the opportunity and the levers to decide the future direction of transport in the country.

The Government’s decarbonisation plan is due to be published soon. In its preliminary policy paper Decarbonising Transport: Setting the Challenge , the first of six priorities outlined was: “Accelerating modal shift to public and active transport”.

To do this the policy paper outlined four objectives:

  • Help make public transport and active travel the natural first choice for daily activities
  • Support fewer car trips through a coherent, convenient and cost-effective public network; and explore how we might use cars differently in future
  • Encourage cycling and walking for short journeys
  • Explore how to best support the behaviour change required

The Covid crisis has made some of these objectives more challenging  – at least in the short term.

The crisis has also highlighted some tensions between different areas of public policy – Health vs the Economy, for example.

The publication of TRICS Decide and Provide guidance for transport planning promotes an approach to transport and land use planning that starts from visioning a preferred future and choosing a development path to achieve it.

I would argue that this approach can be applied to making better use of existing infrastructure and services through making “better choices” available and appealing.

Safety, convenience, distance and journey time consideration for each journey real people want to make will continue to drive travel choices.

Understanding when, where, and how different people, need, want or are able to travel helps policymakers make appropriate transport provision.

(Rural areas with few public transport services are still car dependent – no amount cycleway would get my granny on a bike.)

A shared, layered vision, meeting needs and aspirations

In previous blogs we have explored how transport is an enabler of policy outcomes and is not an end in itself.

Post-Covid challenges provide a ripe opportunity for policy makers and operators to determine how they would ideally optimise the transport system to meet the needs of users, the economy and the environment, which (ideally) pays for itself while being affordable to use.

Understanding transport users through data, surveys and qualitative means, provides intelligence to help shape the transport system that users want, and to identify the incentives that would encourage travel in the way operators and policymakers would prefer.

Harnessing digital technology can give closer to real time delivery of information and incentives.

Deciding together what ‘better’ looks like helps us ‘build back better’ together …


Photo by William Daigneault on Unsplash

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