Arriva blog: Reflections from our outgoing CEO on the essential role of public transport and how to ‘build back better’
It has been a great privilege to serve as CEO of Arriva, alongside such a strong team, and with the business about to embark on a new chapter under the leadership of Mike Cooper, I wanted to share some reflections.
Arriva is a diverse organisation but it is a company united in its responsibility to doing the right thing by each other and its customers. And this has shone through during this pandemic, where I’ve seen inspiring and dedicated commitment.
Out of the tragedy of Covid-19, we have also seen a widespread recognition of the importance of public transport and the essential role it provides as the lifeblood of communities.
When the world went into lockdown, the key workers of public transport kept the other key workers moving.
Partnering closely and collaboratively with governments and passenger transport authorities across Europe, unprecedented changes were made to our operations at record speed, ensuring we were able to provide our services to those who rely on them while keeping our passengers and employees as safe as possible.
To all of Arriva’s employees who performed such extraordinary work in extremely challenging circumstances, I am immensely grateful for your dedicated service.
I am also grateful to our partners, governments and client bodies for their support, working together on our vital shared mission.
Every day across our operations, we see that public transport is an enabler of healthy, sustainable and prosperous communities.
As policymakers weigh up the choices involved to emerge from the pandemic, there has been much comment about the need to ‘build back better’
There can be few areas which are as important as transport.
I have written in the past about the environmental impact of an over-reliance on car travel and the problems caused by congestion. Yet studies of Google’s and Apple’s data shows that car travel has recovered more quickly than public transport.
This is despite the widespread measures in place on public transport so customers can travel with confidence, such as high standards of sanitation, social distancing requirements and new safety measures.
As highlighted in analysis for the European Parliament’s Committee on Transport and Tourism, international studies show that “if preventative measure are in place, the risk of contagion on public transport is very low and public transport vehicles are potentially safer than other enclosed spaces.”
If one of the results of the pandemic is a car-led recovery, the public health disaster of the pandemic will, sadly, be compounded.
There is widespread support across Europe not to allow the return to pre-pandemic pollution levels. But there are wider health considerations too. As the World Health Organisation notes, shifting to public transport is associated with a wide range of health benefits, including more physical activity and less obesity by encouraging more active travel.
Public policy must prioritise modal shift – encouraging citizens to switch from cars to public transport and active travel, with funding and interventions to support.
It’s greatly encouraging to see the EU place demanding targets for climate change at the heart of its approach but without a strong public transport sector, and a return of passengers to these modes, the EU’s climate objectives cannot be achieved.
Later this year, the EU plans to publish its Sustainable and Smart Mobility Strategy.
Europe’s leaders should seize this as a landmark opportunity to prioritise delivering this modal shift and support the creation of mobility networks centred around sustainable transport.
That would truly help societies across Europe to ‘build back better’.