The pandemic has meant a sharp reduction in travel in both passenger and commercial traffic. The behavioural changes we have seen will remain in part – meaning action is needed to make public transport attractive, write Tobias Kihlén, Helena Lemoine and Caroline Barle.
In Sweden, at the beginning of the pandemic, the number of public transport journeys decreased rapidly, by 42 percent compared with the previous year. Now that society is reopening and the restrictions have been lifted, public transport needs to make extensive changes, in order to attract travellers again.
The emphasis in the procurement of transport providers needs to go from a relatively pure focus on cost to one which rewards new ideas that attract travellers back to public transport. Four areas in particular will have a major impact on travel in the future:
Flexible travelling. More travellers will be looking for flexible ticket options as traditional monthly passes are not attractive for hybrid workers, as well as more seamless offers across multiple modes of transport, so-called Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS). This integrates electric scooters, rental cars, buses and subways in the same offer. The Travis app is an example of this. To fully exploit the potential of these new services nationally, all regional public transport authorities need to open up their sales channels to private mobility providers.
Green travel. In Sweden, public transport has a natural role and growing potential to contribute to reduced emissions as well as decreased noise and congestion. For traffic authorities, which have experienced large losses during the pandemic, it will be important to secure financial resources in the future to support continued electrification, with investment in, among other things, charging infrastructure and vehicles.
Healthy travelling. Even after the pandemic, travellers will place high importance on hygiene and a healthy travel environment. Increased resources and solutions will be needed to meet ever higher expectations from passengers for cleanliness and good ventilation in vehicles and station environments, if they are to choose public transport over their own car.
Safe travel. Even before the pandemic, security issues were high on the agenda. Since 2011, Stockholmers' sense of insecurity in society has gradually increased, even on public transport. Investments in security-enhancing measures, including on site staff and safer station environments are a prerequisite for travellers wanting to return to public transport after the pandemic.
The public sector can and should support these necessary changes in public transport by:
• Initiating more collaborations between different means of transport where the regional public transport authorities have an opportunity to promote private initiatives around, for example, mobility-as-a-service
• Enabling continued investments in electrification and green alternatives
• Ensuring sufficient resources and providing visible work in creating safe and clean travel environments
There are plenty of Ideas and innovative mobility both in the private business sector and in the regional public transport authorities. A key to realizing these ideas and attracting travellers will be a shift from a relatively pure focus on cost to an increased focus on innovation and new solutions.