Covid turning passengers off public transport and back to cars

Covid is continuing to fuel fears concerning sharing travel space as 41pc of people say they are less likely to use public transport now than before the pandemic.

survey by AA Ireland also found 31pc were more likely to drive to their destination than they were before.

That is despite the lifting of passenger number restrictions on bus and rail services last month and assurances by service operators that mask wearing is enforced and extra cleaning is continuing.

The survey was published yesterday following reports in the Irish Independent that showed road traffic was only marginally below pre-pandemic levels but public transport passenger numbers were lagging at between 50pc and 73pc.

Those trends are a cause of concern from a climate action perspective as greenhouse gas emissions from road traffic will have to fall by half by the end of this decade.

It is also a worry for health professionals as vehicle exhausts are the chief cause of pollution affecting air quality in urban areas.

Government policy is to promote public transport, walking and cycling as a first choice for routine travel, but Covid’s legacy is a retreat to the perceived safety of the car.

“We understand that public transport use is being encouraged now more than ever, as seen with the recent Budget announcement of a youth travel card for 19- to 23-year-olds,” said Anna Cullen of AA Ireland.

“However, changing the attitude of the public will be a slow process as some people are still hesitant to travel on public transport post Covid.”

Only 4pc said they were more likely to use public transport now than before Covid.

The message on active mobility seems to be getting through as 34pc said they were more likely now to walk, but there are concerns the lure of the car might win out during winter.

Stephen Kent, chief executive of Bus Éireann, which is the biggest public transport provider in the country, said that while passenger numbers were down, they were coming back gradually.

“Covid has had a major impact on the company, but we are confident in achieving pre-pandemic passenger numbers over time, driven particularly by the return to workplaces and social and leisure travel,” he said.

Calls have been made for cheaper fares and free travel promotions to entice people back to public transport.

Bus Éireann recently used a 10-for-10 scheme, offering 10 journeys for €10 for passengers on town services in Cork, Limerick and Athlone, with plans to roll it out further.

However, the counter argument is that investment in services must be prioritised to create the kind of public transport people want to travel on.

The lure of a trip overseas seems to help people overcome their doubts about sharing travel space. Around 60pc of those surveyed by AA Ireland said they intended travelling abroad next year.

Twelve per cent had already decided they would be staying in Ireland and travelling within the country, while 6pc had no plans to travel.

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