Note: webinar speakers confirmed but subject to change.
I’ve not travelled by train since the pandemic started
Being of a certain age, Covid-19 has changed my life. I’ve been nervous to eat out, socialise and to travel by public transport seems an unnecessary risk to take. But I am a realist, I know we can’t go on like this forever both for our sanity and the economy at large, so what is needed is to get me out and about again. If we don’t, many services including railways risk being lost forever.
Our trust in the authorities charged with looking after us has taken a bashing, and it’s not improving, but if I look at our local businesses and some larger organisations like the National Trust and the Royal Horticultural Society, they’ve reacted quickly, putting measures into place and getting people back through their doors. Business may still be down but there is recovery.
Railways got off to bad start in this pandemic, with reports of chronic overcrowding, infrequent services and no masks or social distancing. Stay at home messaging and the success of home working added to the problem.
Getting us back on trains
Even if we have a vaccine soon, we’re not going to see a bounce back to our old ways. Having got used to home working and home shopping, many will continue to do so; the trend was already underway, Covid-19 just accelerated it.
Safety is crucial, and I believe the rail operators can learn from the airlines. Mask wearing must be vigorously policed, both at stations and on trains. Operators need to be much more vocal about what they are doing to sanitise the system and to control distancing. Pricing and real-time information on potential crowding can be used to encourage use at less busy times.
There will be less five day a week commuting, the season ticket is facing obsolescence. New app-based ticketing giving flexibility with incentives for regular travel should be quick to deliver.
We need to learn from innovative countries – in Helsinki for instance, their app gives unrestricted travel on trains, trams, buses and metro for a bought time. To encourage the recovery of leisure travel, there need to be incentives. I’m getting emails from airlines promoting short breaks but am yet to see one from a rail operator.
The risk – use it or lose it
If we stop using public transport, stop eating out or visiting town centres and tourist centres, they will die. Clearly the Government and its bodies need to up their game, but so do businesses and us the public, by supporting organisations that are investing in keeping us safe.
If you care about your train services and what losing them would mean for you and your community post Covid-19, attend the ‘Attracting passengers back to Rail’ free webinar on 3 October 2020. It’s organised by Railfuture, which is Britain’s leading and longest-established national independent voluntary organisation, campaigning for a bigger and better railway.
Details and registration at https://www.railfuture.org.uk/webinar.