20 post lockdown bus and train travel questions

Sunday 12th April 2020

Demand side

Bus and train

1 Will companies encourage many of their employees to continue working from home thereby reducing the need for costly offices/work spaces with a consequential reduction in travel demand, particularly at peak times?

2 Will the significant increase in online shopping continue at Covid-19 levels with a consequential reduction in travel demand?

3 Will a fear of travelling on public transport in proximity to others in a confined space, particularly until widespread vaccination is available, reduce travel demand – especially among the vulnerable and aged?

4 Will the upcoming severe economic recession with high unemployment and many people facing personal financial hardship mean a significant reduction in travel demand from pre pandemic levels?

5 Will the cheap price of petrol and diesel encourage people to use cars more than before the pandemic together with shorter journey times from initial reductions in congestion levels as road traffic builds back up gradually?

Supply side


6 Will the new management contract arrangements and associated bureaucracy limit train companies’ ability to implement rational decisions on re-establishing service levels as passenger journeys build back only gradually?

7 Will the new management contract arrangements stymie train companies’ ability to make innovative price adjustments (eg tempting fare offers) to encourage greater travel?

8 Will First Group and Arriva be financially strong enough to facilitate the return of their suspended open access train companies (Hull Trains and Grand Central) and resurrect previous expansion plans (London-Blackpool and London-Edinburgh)?

9 Will Train Operating Companies be happy to continue receiving only a 1.5%-2% margin from running the management contracts?

10 Will HS2, predicated on the need to increase capacity, be subject to a further review on the grounds of post pandemic reduced travel demand and its affordability in a recession; or alternatively be seen as a job creation boost to the economy and continue unchanged. Similar observations re investment in Northern Powerhouse Rail and East-West Rail.


11 Will TfL’s ailing finances with the loss of revenue, lack of fares increases and further delays to Crossrail be bailed out by Government?


12 Will financial support from central Government (BSOG and additional coronavirus funding) and local Government (enhanced concessionary fares reimbursement) continue for a significant length of time including as travel restrictions are eased?

13 Will government want greater control over service levels as that necessary funding continues meaning commercial decision making by bus companies is hampered?

14 Will large bus companies be able to satisfy enough of their shareholders the reduced profit levels likely for the foreseeable future are sufficient to maintain their commitment to the companies?

15 Will central Government be prepared to step in with further funding and support for the bus industry as it struggles to match the perceived necessary supply way in excess of the reduced demand?

16 Will Government fund a campaign to encourage use of public transport once travel restrictions are lifted to negate the ‘Avoid Public Transport’ message put out during the lockdown?

17 Will bus companies be creative and innovative in encouraging passengers back to bus travel with extensive marketing campaigns and price offers?

18 Will bus manufacturers and other supply side manufacturing and service companies survive as bus companies cut back investment and capital expenditure?

19 Will local authorities be quick footed enough (and have the political courage) to take advantage of reduced traffic and pollution levels in towns and cities to implement emergency (leading to permanent) bus priority measures to ensure, as travel restrictions are eased, car traffic doesn’t return to previous levels with its consequential negative impact on climate change?


20 With widespread availability of a vaccine for Covid-19 many months away are the above questions far too premature and with passenger journeys on buses and trains likely to continue at minimal levels for the foreseeable future is it more practical and financially more sensible to withdraw all current bus and train services and instead operate subsidised taxis (subject to rigorous hygiene standards and emergency protective screening for drivers installed as per supermarket checkouts) for authorised travel purposes only?

Roger French

Photo: Hassocks station car park last week – completely empty. Never seen like this before; ever. Four trains per hour are running between Brighton and Victoria or Bedford.

18 thoughts on “20 post lockdown bus and train travel questions

Add yours

  1. The real issue I see is that it will not be a switch on / switch off process, i.e. one day we will be in lock down , and the next everything is back to normal. Even when travel restrictions are lifted, I’m sure that the more vulnerable or cautious of us will stlll not venture out, or will only venture out occasionally. ‘Normality’ (whatever that will be) will not return for at least 12 months, i.e. when people are comfortable that they have been vaccinated agianst Covid-19. For some the risk of catching it, and having to be treated in hospital will still be too great, even though hospitals may be better able to cope.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Another question: Will the relaxation of competition rules become more widespread and positively encouraged, allowing the sensible cases of joint operation, joint ticket acceptance and shared advertising of bus services to become the norm ?

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Post vaccine:
    The switch to home working may mean many fewer journeys but if these come mainly off the peak then the services could be more economic as extra peak buses and trains may not be needed especialy if peak bus trips do not need extra time.
    Trains could be more economic if some of the gold plating was removed from some services. Eg London Leeds trains do not need to go to Harrogate, Skipton and Bradford when there are so many connecting trains. A few trains services would be better by bus eg Grimsby Barton. We do not need a Beeching but we need a bit of economic light pruning.
    After a long break people might find driving on busy roads a bit traumatic.
    People may also want to keep the clean air and quiet streets. Bu tpoele wil ahe to be presuaded that buses and trains are safe (they are but this must be believed.
    The government and LAs need to be intelligent and let bus and train companies maximise traffic. They should build on car parks or turn them into parks.
    Bus and train companies need to plan some very sophisticated marketing based on keeping clean air and free flowing roads and relaxing journeys.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I 100% agree on the pruning of the rail network. A good few useless and empty services being ran (prior to the virus). The examples you gave were spot on. It’s a waste of resources and I would put money on the fact that the majority of the trips don’t cover their costs and are just there for a bit of publicity.
      Apart from some of those extensions already mentioned, there are some of the stupid requirements set by the DaFT making some TOCs stop at stations they would never normally stop for the sake of 1 or 2 trips (TPE to Rotherham Central and Dore & Totley for example).

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  4. I think your no.20 is the only relevant question for the moment. This whole situation is going to be ongoing for many months yet; I genuinely believe we’ll be into autumn before we see any real easing of the lockdown, and that means that the British (and indeed worldwide) economy will tank, which will leave us all asking much bigger questions.

    In Lincolnshire the county council have already bitten the bullet and decided that CallConnect will operate free of charge, providing dial-a-ride replacement for the many scheduled services which have already been withdrawn. I suspect that we will see a significant increase in this sort of dial-a-ride provision to replace scheduled services (although not necessarily offering free travel), possibly using larger operators’ midibuses as there simply won’t be enough minibuses around.

    I can’t see taxis (black cabs or ordinary vehicles) being able to provide a meaningful replacement as with social distancing requirements they simply don’t have the capacity; a standard taxi can only carry one socially-distanced passenger and even a seven-seater will only manage two with the separation requirements. Besides, I think taxis are already struggling to fulfil the needs of businesses so simply won’t be available to replace local bus services; as an example, because of social-distancing meaning only one person per standard taxi, my employer’s taxi usage has nearly quadrupled in the past few weeks, which means there are fewer taxis available for anyone else!


  5. As long as ‘the right to bear cars’goes unchallenged after the coronavirus it’ll be back to normal cars first everything else second.although it’s a bit early to think about it being over.even if they make an antiviral it would still have to be mass manufactured and distributed and how effective would it be?the antiviral Tamiflu had to be taken within 48 hours of getting the 2009 swine flu and there’s some doubt as to it’s effectiveness.

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  6. Sorry for not being optimistic, but if we ever get to the stage where covid-19 is done and dusted, I personally think bus networks are done for. This virus has somewhat highlighted the poor hygiene standards in the industry, and there could be problems attracting back passengers seeing as the government, businesses and institutions are advising people to stay from it, which is a good thing in the current situation. But they are being promoted as dangerous, and it will stick in the consumer’s mind for a long time now. It’s shame because many companies really made the effort in the past 4 years to improve their services.

    Rail travel should be fine. I think a lot of people will move back to their offices, as people are struggling to differentiate between work and rest at the moment. Travelling to somewhere external from home made all the difference before the pandemic.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. But what form of public transportation spread coronavirus so rapidly around the world….planes! surely therefore the standard of hygiene on planes leaves a lot to be desired?yet they are all awaiting huge government bailouts lead by our very, except when it comes to paying tax,own Lord Branson (might as well make him a Lord now as no doubt it won’t be long before the Queen taps him on the shoulders with a sword?).I would imagine that buses had a small part in spreading coronavirus.what about private cars the mobility that they give must have formed a major vector in the spread and still is.


  7. Replacing buses with taxis is unlikely to work out – in a standard car, you sit too close to the driver to be properly socially distanced even with only 1 passenger, and how much capacity is there in the taxi industry to step up and replace buses? At least with a regular bus, you can get several passengers on who are all able to keep a reasonable distance from each other and from the driver. And it should be easier for bus operators to carry out regular deep cleans.

    As for the long-term prognosis, and whether people will go back to cars first, that depends whether they still have them. If the recession is as bad as we expect, that could lead to a lot of people having to give up their cars, which may leave them no choice but to use public transport for any journeys outside the range of walking or cycling. If people are traveling less and money is tight then the upfront cost of owning a car is going to be harder to justify.

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  8. The ridiculous SWR shuttle between Yeovil Junction and Yeovil Pen Mill comes to mind as unecessary, from observation they rarely carried more than one or two passengers. There’s probably justification in running the Yeovil Junction Salisbury via Westbury Trains as they gave better access to Westbury and Bristol from Yeovil and they’d always run a couple a day as driver route knowledge journeys so they might as well carry passengers, I believe it was Chris Loder’s (now West Dorset MP) idea. Although the spcing of journeys on the Weymouth line is still not very good..

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    1. I’m not sure that terminating trains at Yeovil Junction rather than Pen Mill half a dozen times a day is going to make any financial difference to the health of the railways beyond a rounding error…

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  9. Some very good questions there that deserve answers (albeit brief). So:
    1. Yes . . . working from home will become the new normal for those companies that can arrange it; but remember all those in the “hospitality”, construction and transport sectors . . . they’ll still need to travel.
    2. Sort of . . . people will want to return to being able to look at goods before purchasing them.
    3. We’ll very soon forget the restrictions . . . if we’re told it’s all clear, then within months we’ll not worry.
    4. That’s a tough one . . . in previous recessions travel suffered, but see question 1 above . . . peak travel will reduce considerably anyway.
    5. That’s a big worry . . . it would be good for schools to start planning bus networks now for September . . . some schools run comprehensive route networks, but not many. One thing that MIGHT ease traffic congestion is if schools stagger school days . . . then a network of buses for school A could run on to serve school B; reduced costs for all. That’d require co-operation between schools, though . . . not sure they’ll see that bigger picture.
    6. The need to plan so many weeks ahead will already restrict the ability to re-introduce services to match demand . . . it’s easy to simply withdraw trains, much more difficult to re-introduce them in a co-ordinated way.
    7. Um . . . . LNER still offer special deals, so probably not; it’ll depend how much DfT want to micro-manage (and whether they actually know what to do?).
    8. No . . . . I could never understand London-Blackpool and London-Edinburgh other than predicated on raiding ORCATS . . . . there’s just no USP for either services.
    9. Yes . . . if it’s guaranteed, then 2% (for an investor) is better than 0.25% (or 0.1% at present).
    10. I’d like to think HS2 will continue as a boost to the economy (think of all those jobs that wouldn’t be created), although I do think that the initial services (and thereby the initial build of trains) would be scaled back.

    I think I’ll save questions 11-20 for a subsequent comment!!

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  10. Me again . . . . here are questions 11-20:

    11. Who knows . . . Tory Government and Labour Mayor . . . . toss of a coin!!
    12. Doubtful . . . that smacks of interference in a commercial market . . . and there’ll be no money left anyway.
    13. Watch Rural Bus Grant return . . . it didn’t work in the Noughties, and it won’t in the Twenties!!
    14. Inherently, the bus industry is “cash-rich” . . . users pay at the point of use without invoices being necessary. Plenty of companies survive on that basis, and investors will see it that way.
    15. That’ll all depend on the amount of money available out of the £340billion (or so) after paying for furloughing and Universal Credit . . . . so no.
    16. I’d like to think so, but with DfT involved . . . . I think we know the answer to that one.
    17. Yes . . . well, some of them, anyway. What might be interesting is to come up with a list of likely survivors in 12 months’ time, and likely failures as well . . . . I think we can all nominate some in each category.
    18. We’ve only got three UK manufacturers now . . . . one of those will not survive, but I’ll not predict which one.
    19. This is probably the biggest question of all here . . . . as the decisions taken will affect the bus industry for decades to come. It’s the reduction in emissions now, and the inevitable rise after normality returns, that might just swing the pendulum the right way (but having dealt with local government for some years now, I’m not hopeful . . . they’ll always try not to upset people in decision-making).
    20. No . . . . as commented earlier, that’s a short-term solution, and will not be practical anyway. Life will recover; society will return to some semblance of normality, and buses will be part of that.

    Let’s think positively and look forward . . . . to a future where students are instructed to travel by bus to/from school . . . to a future where air pollution is reduced (we’ve seen what the future might look like, and we’re not happy with that vision) . . . to a future where a co-ordinated transport policy is developed, whereby the greater good is considered before “me-me-me” . . . to a future where life slows down just a little, and where consideration of others becomes important again.

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  11. 19: come on Roger, you know that’s not going to happen! Local authorities will be offering free parking (“to draw in” the shoppers and commuters) long before they think about bus priorities and it wouldn’t surprise me to see central government, via their new-found proxies the train operating companies, doing something similar at railway stations.

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  12. I do wonder what percentage of people can be trusted to work efficiently at home. We currently have somebody has worked from home for several years and she is an excellent employee who is dedicated to her work. On the other hand we have ex employees who “worked from home” but clearly didn’t understand it meant that that you still had to put in a full days work and not just idle the time away.

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