Report probes options for rebuilding sector for a greener future


A new report by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) and consultancy KPMG has called on the government to proactively encourage increased use of public transport while maintaining a “health first approach”.

It is one of a series of recommendations contained in the document which concludes that how people get to and from their workplace has undergone a radical shift in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

They say it presents policymakers with a perfect opportunity to provide greener, more affordable and more flexible public transport solutions in the future.

As more employees return, new CBI research suggests that ensuring adherence to government guidance including social distancing and mandatory use of face coverings is essential if people are to travel with confidence.

Presently, public transport operators remain under huge strain as passenger numbers remain low across UK-wide networks. The CBI/KPMG warn that the government will need to intervene further to ensure public transport services remain viable over the next year while demand is constrained, working with operators to transform services for a ‘new normal’ beyond 2021.

But the crisis has also presented opportunities to embed greater flexibility and sustainability through public transport networks, improving experiences for commuters now and over time.

Sharing and enhancing data flows about public transport use between operators, businesses and consumers, and accelerating the roll-out of “tap in and tap out” style ticketing are important steps to innovating a way back from the crisis.

The report is the first of a series of papers by CBI/KPMG focusing on the future of the commute which lays out a number of quick steps that can be taken to safely manage demand, as well as the longer-term measures required to help public transport networks adjust to the ‘new normal’.

Launching the report, Tom Thackray, CBI director of infrastructure, said: “As lockdown conditions ease and more of the economy reopens, public transport networks will need to adapt to new travel patterns, starting with putting people’s safety first to rebuild public confidence.

“Beyond the crisis people will want to work more flexibly, using public transport that is more responsive, reliable and sustainable. Services must be transformed to meet this need.

“Investment must focus on better passenger experiences and improving local accountability will be critical to providing greener and more flexible public transport solutions that will stand the test of time and contribute to the UK’s Net Zero goals.”

The report lays out a series of recommendations:

  1. While maintaining a health first approach, the government should proactively encourage increased use of public transport;
  2. Businesses should undertake regular reviews into their workforce travel patterns, eventually making it common practice, and communicate these findings with local decision makers;
  3. At a national level, the Department for Transport should play a coordinating role in centralising real-time public transport data for public distribution;
  4. The government should continue supporting transport operators to keep services running as demand recovers from the crisis;
    – For the railways this should include extending and revising the Emergency Measures Agreements for rail services for a further 18 months. The agreements should incentivise efficient service delivery by the private sector and promote greater collaboration between Network Rail and Train Operating Companies;
    – For bus operators, a carefully targeted approach should be taken to support, providing operators with the stability they need to provide services notwithstanding slow recovery in demand;
  5. The government should continue to accelerate infrastructure investment plans, as outlined in the March 2020 Budget, with decisions drawing on findings of the Green Book Review to ensure additional spending delivers long term value for commuters;
  6. The Devolution White Paper should be used as an opportunity to consider how local decision makers can be empowered to plan, design, and deliver transport systems that work for residents and business;
  7. As a starting point, government should create a one-off fund of £90 million to support the roll-out of high capacity digital ticketing systems on rail services. This should come alongside the roll-out of “tap in and tap out” style “multi-modal” fare options across the UK;
  8. Local authorities should work closely with Local Enterprise Partnerships to plan the allocation of new active travel infrastructure, such as walking and cycling, in a way that will see the greatest uptake by commuters and support public transport networks;
  9. Government should scale up investment in electric vehicle charging infrastructure in those localities where the market will not deliver and introduce a ‘net-zero mobility credit’ scheme to incentivise the switch to low emission transport, including zero-emission vehicles;
  10. The government must publish its Decarbonisation of Transport Plan and National Bus Strategy by the end of the year.

“The return to a “new normal” in the wake of Covid-19 is likely to be gradual,” said Ed Thomas, KPMG’s UK head of transport. “However, in the long term, transport infrastructure will continue to be integral to the UK’s economic performance.

“In building back from the crisis, government should work with operators to address issues around reliability, efficiency and the passenger experience that were evident before the crisis. Investment should be accelerated to support the recovery, but it should also be re-prioritised both to reflect the likely shift in commuting patterns and to support long term sustainability goals.”

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