Covid-19 was first reported to the World Health Organisation in December 2019 and on the 23rd March 2020, the UK went into a nationwide lockdown.
The Challenges Brought by Covid-19
Covid-19 was first reported to the World Health Organisation in December 2019 and on the 23rd March 2020, the UK went into a nationwide lockdown. Overnight, our daily routines, mobility and working life entirely changed, the effects of which are still unfolding nearly 4 months on. Public transport, which relies on the idea of mass transport and close proximity, suddenly became unfeasible and undesirable. As the challenges of a rush hour commute in a global pandemic came to light, the realities of the unpractical nature of offices also became apparent.
While elements of lockdown have now relaxed and parts of life are ‘returning to normal’, the impacts on public transport and office life do not look like they are changing anytime soon. Therefore, it is vital that we rethink and redesign our ways of life to adapt to the uncertain nature of this virus and utilise it as a way to drive positive change in these sectors. This report outlines the impact of coronavirus on the transport sector and office life, investigates the changes in public opinion surrounding these issues and evaluates what can be done going forward.
The Impact of Covid-19 on the UK Transport Sector
The UK Department for Transport (DfT) recorded the use of different transport modes during the pandemic and provided statistics for each day. Figures 1 and 2 below show the changes in transport use across the months of March, April, May, and June 2020. The data for weekends and bank holidays has been omitted so the results are fully comparable as there are typically different levels of service in place at these times. The data for cars is shown as a % of the equivalent day in the first week of February 2020; for National Rail and TFL Tube, it is an equivalent week in 2019. The bus % is based on the % of an equivalent day the third week of January 2020, and for cycling, this is the equivalent day in the first week of March (covering England only).
C. Payne, ‘Coronavirus and the effects on UK prices’, Office for National Statistics, 6th May 2020, https://www.ons.gov.uk/economy/inflationandpriceindices/articles/coronavirusandtheeffectsonukprices/2020-05-06, (accessed 13th July 2020)
 T. Burns, ‘Transport in the UK will never be the same, it must be better’, Sustrans, 26th May 2020, https://www.sustrans.org.uk/policy/life-after-lockdown/2020/briefing-paper/transport-in-the-uk-will-never-be-the-same-it-must-be-better/, (accessed 13th July 2020)
 Department for Transport, ‘Transport use during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic’, GOV.UK, https://www.gov.uk/government/statistics/transport-use-during-the-coronavirus-covid-19-pandemic, (accessed 9th July, 2020)
Figure 1: Changes in use of different transport modes between March and June 2020 using a monthly average for each mode.
Figure 2: Changes in use of different transport modes throughout lockdown with a monthly divide to account for the relaxing of key lockdown measures.
It is clear from both figures 1 and 2 that the introduction of a nationwide lockdown on the 23rd of March caused a hugely significant decrease in the use of all modes of transport except for cycling. Private motor vehicle use reduced by up to 75%, bus (excluding London) fell by up to 90% and National Rail and TFL Tube by 95%. Since lockdown has eased, private motor vehicle use has increased, with recent figures showing only a ~20% reduction compared to pre-lockdown levels. However, public transport modes are not seeing a similar return. Early figures for July also show that National Rail is still seeing a 90% reduction in usage.
Comparatively, active modes of transport have seen a huge increase during lockdown. Individual figures from May show cycling up to 230% of pre-lockdown levels. The DfT do not report on walking statistics, however companies such as Apple and Google have reported a surge in requests for walking directions. Furthermore, an AA poll of 20,000 motorists reported that 50% said they intended to walk more as a result of lockdown. There has been a clear shift in attitude in favour of active transport modes, however maintaining this as lockdown measures ease will be a significant challenge.
Changes in Public Attitude Regarding Transport
The Covid-19 pandemic has swayed transport opinions among the population in regard to transport. Transport Focus conducted a survey which found that of the people who had not used public transport over the previous 7 days, 36% would not use public transport for any reason until they feel safe. In the age bracket 18-24, 66% said they would be less likely to use public transport after lockdown due to concerns about keeping a distance. This highlights a major issue going forward as the idea of public transport is based on the concept of communal use of a shared service.
A more concerning survey found that 56% of UK driving licence holders who do not currently own a vehicle said that the Covid-19 pandemic has made them consider purchasing a car when it is safe to do so. This has the potential to undo the huge amount of work that has been done to encourage sustainable travel modes and could potentially be disastrous for the UK’s carbon zero targets. The World Economic Forum conducted an important international survey to understand people’s attitude surrounding transport, with 4,600 respondents from 9 different countries, the results of which are shown in figures 3 and 4 below.
Figure 3: Survey results relating to how comfortable people are using different modes of transport once restrictions are lifted.
Figure 4: Survey results estimating transport usage post Covid-19.
Figure 3 indicates that 52% of respondents said they were uncomfortable using public transport. Of those who use mass transit regularly, 41% said they would use it less. Figure 4 estimates that public transport will be used significantly less in favour of more self-driving in a post-lockdown world. This indicates that it will not be enough to simply promote the health and sustainability aspects of public transport, as was done in the pre-Covid-19 era, but safety must be a huge focus going forward. Ultimately, it will need to be demonstrated that taking public transport is equally as safe as travelling in a private vehicle.
 J. Rowlett, ‘Coronavirus: Drivers plan to walk more to keep cleaner air of lockdown – survey’, BBC News, 25th May 2020, https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-52793230, (accessed 8th July 2020)
 Travel during Covid-19 weekly surveys, accessed from: https://www.transportfocus.org.uk/research-publications/all/
 A. Woodhouse, ‘Will you start transport distancing when lockdown lifts?’, Autotrader, 30th June 2020, https://www.autotrader.co.uk/content/news/public-transport-distancing (accessed 13th July 2020)
 See 6.
 Stansbury, J. et al., ‘Glimpses of Recovery, Traveler sentiment survey, Edition 1’, Oliver Wyman, June 2020
Changes to Offices and Workplaces as a Result of Covid-19
Part of the huge reduction in public transport use (especially the TFL Tube) is due to the closure of offices and restructuring of businesses to allow working from home. With considerably less commuting to work, the concept of a ‘rush hour’ diminished during lockdown and this is not expected to change any time soon. It has long been thought that the office was required to encourage and uphold productivity within teams, however lockdown has provided an opportunity to demonstrate that we can in fact be equally as productive from a home environment. In some circumstances, it can even be beneficial.
In a survey conducted by McKinsey, 80% of respondents said that they enjoyed working from home, 41% said they are now more productive, and 28% they were equally as productive. The benefits are not just for the individual either. Businesses have stated that with fewer locational constraints, they can now access new pools of talent and can significantly reduce real estate and running costs. A survey from the World Economic Forum found 57% of respondents with jobs were working remotely more often and of those, 65% planned to continue or were leaning towards working from home more often.
A key part of post-lockdown life is therefore going to involve the rethinking of the working environment. McKinsey note 4 steps that are needed to do this:
Firstly, we must reconstruct how work is done, so that the business model can leverage the best of both in-person and remote work. An example of this could be working in the office for initial planning and then remotely for execution.
Secondly, roles should be reclassified into employee segments considering the value that remote working could deliver, ranging from fully remote, to hybrid, to onsite.
Thirdly, it will be important to redesign the workplace to support organisation priorities, designing workplaces to support the forms of interactions that cannot happen remotely.
Finally, offices will need to redesign their footprint creatively, using a portfolio of space solutions: owned space, standard leases, flexible leases, flex space, co-working space, and remote work.
In combination, these steps will improve how work is done and could also lead to savings. Despite this, it is important that organisations do not move to fully remote operations, there is a need for connections and research demonstrates that working collaboratively can improve mental health. However, a balance is needed to avoid massive exposure to the current virus, or ones we may experience in the future.
As well as remote working, a staggered workday and rota may become the new standard, with smaller groups coming into work on alternative days and shifts. This would reduce rush-hour peaks and help to facilitate a return to utilising public transport, as well as ease the ability to social distance within the workplace.
 Boland, B. et al., ‘Reimagining the office and work life after COVID-19’, McKinsey & Company, 8th June 2020, https://www.mckinsey.com/business-functions/organization/our-insights/reimagining-the-office-and-work-life-after-covid-19, (accessed 13th July 2020)
 See reference 8.
Re-designing our Streets
Alongside changes to the working environment, changes to the streetscape are being fast-tracked to create a safer environment for pedestrians and cyclists to inhabit. Sustrans has identified the need for reallocating space for walking and cycling, citing that many places have seen a 70% rise in the number of people cycling, with Scotland as a nation seeing walking and cycling levels rise 30% and 50% respectively. To help cities and towns fast-track schemes including widening footways, installing cycle tracks, pedestrianising streets, and reducing through traffic, a £250m emergency active travel fund has been set aside in England and £10m in Scotland. However, Sustrans argue that now is the time to push measures for walking and cycling even further, suggesting we need to make it illegal to park on the pavement anywhere in the UK, increase cycle parking, declutter pavements and develop ‘park and cycle’ facilities.
Globally, many cities are making commitments to reduce car use after lockdown. The city of Milan in Italy has announced it will turn 35km of streets over to cyclists and pedestrians in a hope to stop the resurgence in car use as residents return to work. The plan includes low-cost, temporary cycle lanes, new and widened pavements, 30kph (20mph) speed limits and pedestrian and cyclist priority streets. The New York Times recently published an article tackling the issue of car dependency, arguing that cities need to plan for a future of fewer cars and that the pandemic has created an opportunity for cities to reduce their reliance on cars. The article hypothetically talks of banning all private motor vehicle cars in Manhattan, with car lanes replaced by 2-way bike lanes and hugely expanded sidewalks. There would also be dedicated bus lanes, free of traffic. Before the pandemic, the average speed of traffic in Manhattan had fallen to 7mph, only slightly faster than walking and slower than riding a bike. So, while the plans in the article are only hypothetical, the pandemic has highlighted the huge safety, health and lifestyle benefits for a huge rethink of transport and mobility in big cities.
Changes to the street network are not just hypothetical and in the concept stage. Sustrans have created an interactive map of the UK showing temporary cycle lanes, wider footways, reduced speed limits, streets closed to vehicles, and other measures. A picture of the map is shown in figure 5 below, highlighting the changes to streets that make it easier for people to walk, wheel and cycle safely during the lockdown and beyond. Examples include the recent widening of the footpath on Brixton High Street to create more space for social distancing, the removal of 1/3rd of city centre on-street parking spaces in Glasgow to increase space for walking, and the addition of multiple temporary bike storage facilities in Exeter.
 Sustrans, ‘Reinventing the high street for Covid-19 recovery’, Sustrans, 16th June 2020, https://www.sustrans.org.uk/policy/life-after-lockdown/2020/briefing-paper/reinventing-the-high-street-for-covid-19-recovery/?fbclid=IwAR2zn42Yu8DV-U9p2IT_kq1wImFhK2N82NKjQ6wab_feeHCxIagqO8bR3NQ
 Sustrans, ‘Space to Move’, https://www.sustrans.org.uk/space-to-move/
Figure 5: Sustrans ‘Space to Move’ interactive map.
Research conducted by Sustrans even before Covid-19 showed that 75% of residents living in 12 UK cities and urban areas were keen to see more space made available on their high streets for people socialising, cycling and walking. In addition, research conducted during lockdown has shown that during the pandemic, people have been making more use of centres close to them, rather than travelling further afield. Therefore, it is not extreme to assume that the attitudes of the public towards active travel and ‘locality’ have had a positive shift as a result of Covid-19. Permanent investments should thus be made into redesigning streetscapes to enable the safe travel of pedestrians and cyclists across the nation.
The Impact of Lockdown on Climate Change
Finally, it is important to note the impact of the lockdown on climate change. A report by Le Quéré et al., has found that reductions in global emissions from surface transport fell by -36% by 7 April 2020 and made the largest contribution to the total emissions change. The associated annual decrease for this year will be much lower (estimated at -4.2% to -7.5%) however, significantly, this rate of decrease is what is needed year-on-year to limit climate change to 1.5°C. This puts into perspective the upcoming challenge that is faced in order to limit climate change in the coming decades. The study shows the huge influence surface transport has, and how responsive emissions can be to policy changes and economic shifts. As active travel has the attributes of social distancing that are likely to be desirable for some time, the rededication of street space for pedestrians and cyclists as a result of this pandemic may have a huge influence on helping to cut back CO2 emissions going forward.
Will Covid-19 Lead to Lasting Change in Transport Behaviour?
There is no doubt that the Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way we see and use transport both in the UK and internationally. The need for social distancing forced a closure of our offices and a dramatic reduction in public transport use and we are only just understanding the practicalities in re-starting these sectors.
As lockdown eases, the work environment is being reimagined and our streetscapes re-purposed in order to put public safety at the heart of operations. The pandemic has seen a rise in levels of walking and cycling, however it has also brought a fear of public transport. Therefore, there is a challenge going forward to ensure the car does not take over once again.
It should also be noted that lockdown happened during spring and summer- this will likely have had a huge influence on people’s willingness to cycle and walk. If we go through a second wave of Covid-19 during autumn and winter, the statistics and trends could be very different.
 Le Quéré, et al., (2020) Temporary reduction in daily global CO 2 emissions during the COVID-19 forced confinement, Nature Climate Change, pp.1-7.