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The future of public transport: Views of businesses are crucial

Craig Strudley Director 13/11/2020

We are in unprecedented times. Now, more than ever, businesses are reaching for their crystal balls and trying to predict the future. Providers of public transport are no exception.

Predictions about an ever-increasing number of redundancies and revenue decline do not make pleasant reading

What is the future of public transport in the UK? Will demand return to pre-covid levels? If the assumption is no (or not in the short-term), how can operators offset some of the damage done?

As a research and insight consultancy, Savanta has relished the challenge of helping our clients try and understand what travel and transport may look like in the UK post-Covid. For obvious reasons, the focus is often on passengers. We have looked at changing behaviours, the drivers and barriers to public transport usage in 2021 and beyond. But this is not the whole story. Changing employment contracts and the future of the workplace are going to have a major impact on where we travel, how we travel and when we travel. As well as obtaining the view of passengers, we need to speak to businesses to understand what plans they have in place and how these will influence our travel habits in the future.

Savanta are on the case!

In order to track business opinion, Savanta launched a syndicated business tracker back in the Spring. This has recently been refreshed; we speak to 1000 key decision makers per month across a range of sectors and business sizes.

The insight gathered has helped our clients in many ways. Topics covered include:

  • Business “preparedness” for a return to the office; are offices Covid secure?
  • Subsequently, when do businesses see their workforce returning – will this be as soon as the go ahead is given?
  • Will everyone come back, or will office capacity be cut?
  • What is the appetite amongst senior business leaders for remote working versus office-based?

An omnibus survey of this nature can never answer all questions in the detail required; however, the results can help public transport operators understand business sentiment and policy towards domestic travel. In turn, this can help when forecasting future demand.

So, what have we learned recently?

Key Themes

The economic outlook is gloomy

Predictions about an ever-increasing number of redundancies and revenue decline do not make pleasant reading.

Only 73% of business are feeling confident that they will still be operating by the end of 2021.

This negativity won’t surprise anyone, and it’s not rocket science to suggest that operators need to factor economic predictions into their demand models. But how many have a strong grasp of the situation, particularly in the geographic areas in which they operate?

Businesses are keen to get back out there

The catastrophic decline in travel by public transport is well documented. The halt on travel for business purposes is one major reason for that. At the start of October (and before the second lockdown), the majority of businesses had plans to re-start both domestic and international business travel.

The desire shown to get back out there and to see people F2F is encouraging but it’s clear we are still nowhere near where we were and further lockdowns, locally or nationally, have thrown another spanner in the works.

Home Working is Here to Stay

Again, this is now accepted; however, to what extent? If we were to take the employee view only, a significant proportion state that working from home will be the norm; however, employees don’t make the rules and the business view is crucial here.

For a start, businesses state that working from home is driving longer hours yet lower productivity, with a more pronounced challenge amongst medium & large firms.

Right away, there is an incentive for businesses to insist their staff spend time in the office. Despite this, travel demand is likely to remain muted as businesses seek to retain flexible and remote working options.

This message is pretty consistent across all industries, apart from manufacturing and construction. It therefore follows that, with the continuation of remote working, medium & large businesses are highly likely to reduce their physical premises.

Other evidence that travelling to the office will be significantly reduced comes from data that suggests it is spend on IT and software to aid remote working that will dominate in the next year.

There is so much more to understand

The impact of Covid-19 on the workplace isn’t going away quickly. And indeed, there are some changes that businesses want to keep. Demand for public transport will increase but the evidence from our tracker is that there is likely to be a long-term decline in passenger numbers because working from home and flexibility are seen as fundamentally good. And also, cheaper, as medium & large businesses look to consolidate space.

It is important that those in the travel and transport industry have a firm grip on the trends – tools such as the Savanta Business Tracker can help with this. However, a national omnibus study is never going to be able to provide the level of detail required, particularly at a local level. With our extensive experience of B2B research, we can help fill in the gaps – please get in touch.

To find out more please get in touch with one of the team at [email protected]

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