The Lowdown Hub

Increased use of private cars is not an inevitable outcome of Covid-19 even if people are gravitated

Consumers in many countries feel unsafe when using public transport during the Covid-19 pandemic, new research shows, and many are more focused on convenience.

In ING’s survey of more than 4,000 people around the world, 62% of respondents say that they no longer feel safe travelling on public transport. The figure is a startling 82% among Indian respondents, followed by 72% in both Spain and Italy. The survey also finds that 44% of respondents overall do not see themselves ever going back to their pre-pandemic travel and commuting habits. The data will alarm the policymakers that have made reducing the use of privately owned cars a key element of their strategies to curb carbon emissions. The UK government, for example, estimates that transport accounts for 28% of the country’s greenhouse gas emissions – with cars responsible for 55% of that – and has pursued a policy of making public transport and active travel such as cycling “the natural first choice for daily activities”.1 It is now up to the public and private sectors to shape a new vision for safe and clean mobility that can contribute to achieving zero-emissions targets.

Convenience trumps environmental concerns

This impact of Covid-19 on willingness to use public transport is particularly damaging because environmental considerations are already a low priority for many consumers when they weigh up how to travel. Just 16% say that a desire to reduce emissions and pollution is among their top two considerations, and this slumps to 8% in North America. Meanwhile 39% cite convenience and 37% point to cost.

However, the research does allow some room for optimism. In several crucial markets, much higher numbers of people do think about emissions when they decide how to travel – 37% of Chinese consumers, for example.

Invest and they will travel

Another positive sign is the number of people who are looking for encouragement to step away from their cars: 44% of respondents say they currently drive more often than they would like because they feel they do not have an alternative. There is certainly popular support for greater investment. The research finds that 66% of people believe their government should invest more in public transport to make it viable for them to live without owning a car. These findings suggest that if governments can facilitate an expansion of choice, they will be rewarded with significant uptake.

Safety in tech

Cashless and contactless payment infrastructure is another way to make public transport more convenient – and safer. A majority (64%) of respondents say they prefer to make cashless payments using their debit or credit cards when travelling, and 74% say they have increased their overall use of cashless payment methods significantly as a result of Covid-19. New fintech platforms that offer mobility-as-a-service will enable new players in the transport sector, including banks, to offer ticketing options in their consumer apps. One of these is Dutch start-up Tranzer, which is already being used in several European countries. “In-app ticketing will enable passengers to make choices based on speed, price, comfort and impact on the environment,” says Paul Rooijmans, Tranzer’s Co-Founder. “Policymakers and companies can easily influence specific behaviour with the right set of incentives.” These kinds of initiatives show how new technology can build the case for investment in improved public transport infrastructure that is affordable, convenient – and safe.

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