Date: 09/06/2020
Author: Chris Fletcher
Company: Chris Fletcher

We start our closer look at the big issues that will guide and influence the recovery with transport.

Pre-Covid anyone that used GM’s public transport network would have a mixed experience from very good (when it worked) to not very good (when it didn’t – which was often, especially as regards the rail network).

Its easy to forget that Northern lost its franchise in March and Northern Trains – run by DfT – took over the running of the network, nationalised you may say. For the bulk of the time it has been in public hands services have been slashed to match the huge plunge in demand created by lockdown measures and with services now at about 70% of pre-Covid levels it is way too early to comment on this important change. However it is vital that alongside buses and trams whoever is operating our public transport addresses basic issues to ensure that even at massively reduced capacity the system can cope with what will potentially be increases in demand over the next few months as more people come back to work, shops re-open and, hopefully, the hospitality sector starts up again.

Any successful return to work will need confidence in public transport systems to be regained coupled with a practical approach to capacity availability as regards social distancing requirements. If the 2m gap is to be maintained, then this would have a huge restriction on transport capacity. What was once seen as a “normal” commute will take time to return because people’s reluctance to be back in confined spaces with other people will need to be overcome.

As problematic as this is the question of how to safely move people around will have to be resolved if the economy is to be fully functioning again.

It is anticipated that in the short-term car usage will go up, not only reflecting advice around not using public transport but to allow for the drastic reduction in capacity.  Current estimates are that with distancing measures a double decker bus will carry 18 passengers…..

But, to offset this, numbers of people required to be in work and commuting should continue to be lower if businesses continue with now established and successful ways of working from home. Indeed official government guidance is to continue to work from home if you can. It is difficult at present to ascertain exactly what this could look like. Though initial lower public transport patronage is a certainty.

Greater use of cycling and walking is anticipated and initial plans have been worked up to look at the practical implementation of this, though for longer commutes this would not be practical for most people. Freight and logistics companies have seen volumes decrease but an increase in efficiency and times due to there being less traffic on the roads though with increased traffic volumes any benefits may reduce over time.

Greater use of technology and apps, both health related and for transport services, payments, tickets timetabling will be required.

At a time of uncertainty one thing that is for sure is, how we travel will change and opportunity exists to make changes quickly for the better, which may have taken years without the recent crisis.

Transport and connectivity underpin all elements of our city region – again we can do better than we have in the past but only if we seize the opportunity before us.


Below I’ve set out some initial issue to consider as we start this work:

  • How to fully integrate the role of all transport in a safe recovery for GM, its people and its businesses?

  • How to rebuild confidence in using public transport – right across the community?

  • How to make it safe whilst having limited capacity – can your employees travel to work safely?

  • Impact of fewer people in work on town centres/city centre – what economic damage will be caused and what opportunities could come out of this?

  • Reducing congestion/clean air policy – how realistic and achievable is this in the short term and longer term can measures be taken now to prevent a return to pre-Covid levels?

  • What is the likelihood for an e-vehicle revolution and how quickly could this happen?

The Chamber will be setting up a task group to look at this issue and if you want to take part let me know on the e-mail below. Likewise, if you have any comments or ideas on this please get in touch.