Mayor of West Yorkshire raises plea to protect confidence in public transport

The West Yorkshire Combined Authority's latest survey on people’s travel intentions has found rising confidence in public transport amid a long-term shift in working arrangements.

Throughout the pandemic, the Combined Authority has been surveying the impact of the pandemic on attitudes towards travel and transport. Its latest survey, undertaken before the announcement on face masks no longer being mandatory from 19 July, found tentative signs of a transition back towards pre-pandemic bus and train use compared to survey results from last summer. 

It found 49% of respondents planned to use the bus the same amount as before the pandemic and 11% more than before, while 46% said they would use the train the same amount and 13% more often.

The positive results were thrown into question by the government announcement this week and Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, has warned this positive progress of getting people back onto trains and buses could be undermined if face masks are no longer mandatory from July 19. 

Tracy Brabin, Mayor of West Yorkshire, said:

“Freedom day on 19 July is welcome, but we need to build people’s confidence for the return to public transport. People voluntarily continuing to wear facemasks when travelling could help to increase confidence for many – particularly those who feel most vulnerable or anxious.

“A recent national YouGov poll showed that 71% of people believed that face coverings should continue to be mandatory on public transport. This, coupled with our own survey, shows that there is a collective feeling that this is the wrong call by government.

“Not only do face coverings help slow the spread of the virus, but also act as a reminder to people that we are still not living in normal times and we need to keep distance from each other and continue with safety measures such as washing our hands.

“Here in West Yorkshire, COVID cases have risen 53% in the last week and now exceed the level of the January peak. We now need a clear message from the government that puts people’s safety first, based on the science and live data.”

However, considerable challenges remain, with 40% of respondents saying they would travel by bus less in the coming weeks than before COVID-19, and 41% saying they would travel by train less. Importantly, 28% said they expect these changes to be permanent.

In the long term, a substantial reduction in the five day a week commute is anticipated, in parallel with an increase in flexible working patterns and people commuting between one and three days a week. The survey showed a 17% reduction in commuting trips, relative to pre-pandemic, is expected, with a significantly higher drop among rail commuters (29%).

The survey also found: 

  • Concerns about using public transport have eased during the pandemic, although some differences by age groups remain; those aged under 34 are 64% more likely than those aged over 65 to be ‘not at all concerned’. 
  • 30% of respondents reported currently working from home, a significant fall from June 2020 (47%), although over three quarters of people expect to work at home more often in the long term. 
  • In the long term, a 17% reduction in commuting trips, relative to pre-pandemic, is expected, with a significantly higher drop among rail commuters (29%). 
  • There has been a growth in the number of people walking or running for a range of journey purposes, which is likely to be sustained in the future. 

The survey by the Combined Authority was conducted between 7 and 18 June. It is the fifth in a series commissioned during the pandemic to understand changing trends and inform future planning of transport. The survey saw 1000 residents interviewed by telephone, comprising a representative sample of the West Yorkshire’s population. Read the full report of the latest survey. Previous surveys are available here.