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Sat, 28 November 2020

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Putting passengers at the heart of public transport post-COVID

Putting passengers at the heart of public transport post-COVID

After admitting that the “resurgence” of Covid would present significant challenges, the Minister called for a unifying approach to restore user confidence in public transport both during the pandemic and after.

Transport Focus

4 min read Partner content

A Transport Minister has pledged to put passengers at the “heart” of a national strategy to revive public transport services following the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at a virtual panel hosted by independent watchdog Transport Focus, Minister Baroness Vere said public transport looked forward to a “glorious future” once the UK had emerged from the current “challenging time”.

After admitting that the “resurgence” of Covid would present significant challenges, the Minister called for a unifying approach to restore user confidence in public transport both during the pandemic and after.

“Our national bus strategy is being worked on incredibly hard but it’s difficult at the moment as we’ve got very shifting sands,” the Minister told Anthony Smith, the Chief Executive of Transport Focus, Chair of the event. “We’ve got to recover the industry and then look for it’s great and glorious future in an environment where you’re not entirely sure of the ground you’re standing on.”

Transport Focus has done some fantastic work during the pandemic which has highlighted the levels of confidence people are feeling and as we come out of this their work will be really important - Baroness Vere

The Chief Executive agreed: “It is an uncertain future, although we now have some clear markers about building back public transport as clean, green, reliable and with the focus on the passenger now more than ever before.”

Transport Focus, the watchdog for rail and bus passengers and road users, has asked 2,000 people a week since the start of May about their recent travel experiences, as well as their future travel plans.

At the event, the organisation invited parliamentarians, councillors and industry experts to examine what transport users need to help them travel with confidence now and in the future.

“When you ask people what their journey was like, they’re thinking about different things compared to before the pandemic,” said Louise Coward, Head of Insight at Transport Focus.

“When you unpick what constitutes what feels safe or unsafe, the kinds of things that they mention focus on new specifics, things such as are other passengers wearing face coverings, is it okay to social distance, can I see visible cleaning and how other passengers are behaving.

“We need to understand much more about this so we know what is going to give them that encouragement and reassurance to use public transport,” she explained.

Prioritising sustainable travel in cities, introducing flexible ticketing options and working with business and industries to tackle peak travel times, were all listed as the main areas that need to be prioritised to generate user confidence in public transport.

The debate featured user impact videos which shared customer experiences of public transport during coronavirus.

From this, Anthony Smith highlighted that the pandemic has shone a previously unheard level of focus onto the passenger from the sector.

“The need for the public transport industry to be even more customer centric comes across really strongly and that should continue because in the future, people are still going to have a choice about how they travel”.

Mary Hewitt, Strategy and Policy Director at Arriva UK Trains also emphasised the importance of the user in rebuilding confidence in using public transport.

“We need to listen to what our customers are telling us and what they’re asking for,” she said. “It needs to be data led and we need to understand what their issues are and to address them.

Baroness Vere also acknowledged the fundamental role of the customer in rebuilding public transport: 

“At the absolute heart of strategies there are two things; the passenger and there is the-not-a-passenger-yet, but we want them to be a passenger.

“That’s what you’re going to see in the bus strategy; passengers at its heart and then how do we get the people who don’t ride with our buses, onto our buses, as that’s how we’re going to grow,” she explained.

“As we come out of this pandemic we’re going to have different ways of encouraging different people back on to different networks and the segmentation is going to be really important.”

Furthering the concept of personalisation, Hewitt introduced the idea of breaking down the overall community into sub-groups.

“We can’t look at public transport users as one homogenous group, we need to be agile enough to tailor our offerings to the different groups in a simple and straightforward way.

The Baroness acknowledged that there was a way to go in terms of restoring users’ confidence in public transport but was positive about the future.

“Transport Focus has done some fantastic work during the pandemic which has highlighted the levels of confidence people are feeling and as we come out of this their work will be really important.

“We want public transport to succeed, we want it to be there when we can all get back out there and use it every day”.

 

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