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Social distancing – the death knell for public transport? Fireside Chat

May 28, 2020 @ 4:00 pm - 5:30 pm

Social distancing – the death knell for public transport?

PTRC Education and Research Services, a company within CILT(UK), invite you to join us for an online panel discussion.

With COVID-19 lockdown across the world came a sharp reduction in traffic. With widespread enforced working from home came hope that a new normal might see less commuting by car in future. Then came the stark realisation that social distancing and public transport use are incompatible if not mutually exclusive. What does this mean for the transition out of lockdown and for the battle to reclaim use of the streets? Is it now the car versus walking, cycling and homeworking, with public transport in cities mortally wounded?

Running public transport is expensive and cannot be sustained indefinitely without passengers using and paying for services. Psychological scarring could have lasting effects on people’s propensity to use public transport. Conversely, people’s frustration with lockdown could see a rebound in public transport use, irrespective of the public health risks. The silver lining of COVID-19 seemed to be the possibility of an important and positive change in people’s mobility patterns. Is this instead set to become an even darker cloud of despair as people are encouraged to isolate in their cars and enjoy petrol prices of less than £1 per litre? Public transport needs a game plan to survive and to play its part in shaping a better future, particularly for the many who do not have a car.

This 90-minute panel debate is an opportunity to consider the urgent matter of what is to become of public transport – a chance to illuminate some of the seemingly intractable challenges but also to draw out creative solutions to overcoming them.

To frame this Fireside Chat are the following questions:

1. What does social distancing really mean when using public transport?

2. Who is responsible for governing the use of public transport while virus transmission remains a risk and how strictly will or should it be governed?

3. What level and nature of public transport supply is appropriate during the transition out of the public health risk from COVID-19 and what support is required to deliver it?

4. How serious are the implications for social inequality of public transport being under threat?

5. Is public transport set to be permanently scarred from COVID-19 or will it come back even stronger?

Our panel will explore such questions and more and we look forward to you joining us with the opportunity for raising your own questions for the panel to respond to.

The Fireside Chat will be chaired by Glenn Lyons (Mott MacDonald Professor of Future Mobility at UWE Bristol). He has just, belatedly, written a book chapter during lockdown on ‘public transport and the future of mobility’. As with much deliberation about the future now, it is reframed by the pandemic. “I think it was rather fortuitous that I was delayed in getting to this – to have written a chapter on the future pre-COVID for a book that will be published post-COVID would have sat uncomfortably” he says.