Exploring the role of public transport in the wake of Covid – the importance of building passenger confidence, what the research tells us about the risk of infection while travelling and our ambition to build back better and greener.
I recently had the opportunity to speak to Mohamed Mezghani, Secretary General of the International Association of Public Transport (UITP). As people in Europe start to travel again, Mohamed shared his views about how transport operators can help passengers feel confident in the wake of Covid-19. Together we discussed the safety measures operators are taking and how they can support the sustainable recovery of our cities, and what the research into the risks of using public transport tells us.
In his role as Secretary General, Mohamed gives a global perspective on the crisis, the trends that are emerging and the changes that might come from it. Arriva operates across 14 European countries so recognising the individual market complexities, and seeking a global viewpoint is essential if we are to learn from this crisis.
Across the world essential workers, such as healthcare professionals, relied heavily on our services during the pandemic. The question is how we win back the trust of passengers who might not have stepped onto our services in the last six months.
Mohamed confirmed that it’s not enough for transport operators to make sure their services are safe – they must clearly communicate the steps they have taken so that people are armed with information before deciding to travel. As we talked, he was able to share some tactics used by operators in the US and Austria to reassure those people who needed to get back onboard. One idea from the public transport network in Vienna was a social media campaign that asked people to post selfies of themselves travelling on public transport – this meant that those sitting at home could see for themselves that social distancing and hygiene practices were being used and it provided a great way for the public to share their confidence in their networks.
In the short term, communication is critical to demonstrate the steps taken to make sure transport is as safe as it can be. But what about the long term? How do we make sure public transport is at the centre of any government plans to recover our economies? The UITP are champions of sustainable urban mobility, and Mohamed is clearly concerned by the growing evidence that people are going back to driving their cars instead of using public transport – this is causing increased city congestion and pollution – in some cases, even beyond that experienced pre-Covid19. He also pointed out that while electric cars might appeal to some policy makers, a green traffic jam is still a traffic jam. His view is that our cities must be re-imagined with public transport infrastructure at the heart.
What I found most reassuring from our conversation was Mohamed’s insight into recent research that suggests public transport was a much safer environment than a pub, bar or even someone’s house. According to Mohamed, a recent study published by the French Public Institution of Health Information showed that only one percent of Covid-19 clusters are linked to public transport – and this includes travel by land, air, and sea. Mohamed went onto reference a study by our parent company, Deutsche Bahn, showing that only 0.2 percent of infections have been shown to originate on public transport, this is compared to around 50 percent in private houses.
The conversation with Mohamed was refreshing and his optimism for the future was contagious. In the immediate future we need to take every opportunity to show that public transport is safe if we all play our part and obey the rules Longer term, we need to have a clear vision of what public transport should be. We’ve already demonstrated the integral part we have played in people’s lives over the last six months, now we need Government to acknowledge the essential role we will play in all our futures.
Click below to watch Arriva In Conversation with Mohamed Mezghani.