The Covid-19 pandemic has left a long-lasting impact on people’s habits, especially on the way they move and travel, not only for work but also for leisure.

In the UK, the transport industry has been one of the sectors that were hit the hardest by coronavirus, with data from the Department for Transport highlighting a drop to 4% of pre-pandemic rail use during March to May 2020.

The prolonged lockdown measures, in place for almost a year and a half, also led to a drastic change in people’s working habits, with a significant part of the workforce still working from home.

Even though in England things started to “go back to normal” after 19 July, many people still don’t feel comfortable using public transport.


Covid-19 makes Brits reluctant to use public transport

According to research by Milestone Systems, 39% of UK people are still reluctant to use public transport compared with before the pandemic, with 10% not using it due to Covid-19 infection risks.

This is despite tests recently carried out at London Euston, Birmingham New Street, Liverpool Lime Street and Manchester Piccadilly station finding no traces of Covid-19 in swabs and air samples.

“The public is more aware than ever of the risks of infection spread whilst around large numbers of people, even for short periods of time, and this mentality will likely continue beyond the end of the pandemic,” explained Milestone Systems EMEA vice-president Malou Toft.

“When you consider what public transport hubs looked like before the pandemic, it is obvious why so many people have reservations about using them again.”

Despite the many reservations, the rail industry has a big opportunity to implement a change in the network’s data infrastructure to rebuild public trust in the railway system, especially when it comes to hygiene.

“Fortunately, there are a number of smart technology options which will not just rebuild public confidence, but also genuinely protect passengers from contracting Covid, and indeed other contagious illnesses, while travelling.

“Technologies such as skin temperature detection, mask detection and crowd counting could help the industry assure passenger safety, said Toft.

“All of these technologies are readily available with the ability to anonymize data through metadata aggregation, privacy masking, data purging and much more,” continued Toft. “Thereby, they would overcome many of the post-Covid fears around public transport use, without compromising data privacy.”


Workers need employers to help with the commute

Technology specialist Kura surveyed 2,000 UK workers and found out that 60% still have concerns about commuting, with 63% saying that they would be more inclined to work for an employer that helped with the commute.

The survey highlighted that supporting employees in their commute enhances the employer’s brand and attracts talent, especially from younger workers in London, the South East, North West and Yorkshire, where these sentiments are more prevalent.

According to the respondents, supporting commuters can mean investing in technology to minimise journey times, allowing for more flexible hours or giving financial support in the form of rail season tickets.

The survey highlighted that the majority of companies are still not on board with the idea and only 16.4% of them has expressed a desire to help employees with their commute.

“The findings from the report show that employees believe that their employers should be taking greater responsibility for ensuring they can travel to and from work safely,” explained Kura CEO Godfrey Ryan. “In a hybrid working world, a top-tier employer brand will not be based upon expensive offices or a laid-back culture, but on their capacity and willingness to support employees where it truly matters most to them. The daily commute — as an employee safety, health and financial pain point for far too long — will be at the forefront of this.”

Despite everything, Brits are committed to travel sustainably

Despite concerns about health and safety, British people are committed to travelling in a sustainable fashion post-coronavirus. Data gathered by Thales showed that 50% of respondents are in favour of using more sustainable travel modes in the future, while 24% said they would like to use fewer planes and more trains.

“It is encouraging to see a growing commitment from the public to travel more sustainably in the UK, as we all become increasingly conscious of how our choices can contribute to a greener future,” explained Thales ground transportation vice-president Andy Bell.

 Apart from Covid-19-related reservations, misconceptions about the real impact of railways on the environment are what is holding back people.

Thales’s research suggested that 29% of British people believes that all trains still rely on fossil fuels and 27% still thinks that the UK National Rail network is powered by steam.

“The rail industry has a key role to play in reducing the country’s emissions output in the years to come, and high-speed rail and digital innovation will be key parts of meeting this challenge head-on,” added Bell. “Now, more than ever, the rail industry must work together towards delivering a truly customer-focused railway that provides a modern passenger experience and takes us towards a net-zero carbon future.”