ARTICLE: Raconteur/ The Times – Disrupting travel plans for the near future

COVID-19 has raised important questions around plans for the UK’s transport network, with commuting patterns likely to change as the nation comes out of lockdown

A month into the coronavirus lockdown, National Rail and London Underground use had fallen by 99 per cent and 96 per cent respectively compared to early-February. Bus passenger numbers plummeted by 88 per cent and airport departures had declined significantly.

Now lockdown is starting to ease, mobility is tentatively rising. But with the government advising against using public transport if possible, and many educational institutions and office buildings remaining closed, the daily commute could be consigned to history.

A study by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) has highlighted that preferences for working and socialising remotely post-lockdown will see a move away, at least in the short term, from the infrastructure demand patterns that existed prior to the pandemic.

Drawing on YouGov polling data, ICE found that 61 per cent of UK adults support increasing the frequency of remote working. Some 32 per cent think there should be a transition to a permanent at-home working environment where possible, while 44 per cent are likely to avoid travelling on public transport networks.

Director of policy at ICE Chris Richards says in the immediate post-lockdown, pre-vaccine phase, public trust in existing transport infrastructure will need to be regained, possibly by modifying trains, tubes and buses for social distancing and increased ventilation.

This comes at a price when finances are already massively constrained, however. While transport companies are absorbing the costs and losses for now, in the future it could result in a realignment of services, says Richards.

“We might need to consider if the same frequency or intensity of use is needed if suddenly people are working three or four days a week from home,” he says. “Then there’s the wider question around other types of assets needed to support public mobility.”

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