Impact of coronavirus pandemic on public transport

Bilder auf der Straße: Bus, Pkw, StraßenbahnClick to enlarge
It will take new ideas to get people to opt for public transport more often
Source: MarkusMainka / Fotolia

The coronavirus pandemic and the increased use of digital formats that it has triggered is resulting in changes in public transport. Fear of infection and changed work conditions caused demand to drop in 2020/2021 in Germany. Measures such as the 9-euro ticket have proven that it takes innovative approaches to make public transport more attractive. A recent study has evaluated ideas on the topic.

The German Environment Agency commissioned the consulting companies kcw and Probst & Consorten to investigate the changes in demand for public transport services during the coronavirus pandemic. The study entitled Further development of public transport in and after the pandemic concludes that the demand for local public transport has rebounded back to near normal after the strong downturn due to social distancing and lockdowns. The use of digital exchange formats and video calling rose dramatically at the same time. Whether these changes in demand brought on by working from home, home schooling or online shopping will persist is unknown. There is a strong assumption that these digital areas of daily life will continue to play an important role in the future demand for public transport services.

Occupancy control as protection against infection

Concerns about infections transmitted on public transport were very high during the coronavirus pandemic because it was hardly possible to comply with safety distance regulations. Although studies have been unable to provide any corroborative evidence, public transport continues to suffer from its deteriorated image. The sector is tackling this challenge and trying to raise hygiene standards through technical solutions such as more frequent airing and cleaning to improve protection against viruses. The study shows that occupancy control measures can also help to prevent overcrowding on the public transport system. Such measures target both information (e.g. an app showing occupancy rate) and fares (e.g. the “9 a.m. ticket”).

Innovative fares for public transport

In conclusion, the study analyses and evaluates alternative fare schemes – in response to changing demand patterns – based on specially conducted market research. Innovative, bolder fare pricing can be key to improving the loyalty of existing travellers as well as attracting new passengers and winning back those who were "lost". Entirely new, digital fare models and the gradual reorientation of familiar approaches – with a particular focus on attractive flat rates for as many target groups as possible – are suitable for this purpose. The important thing is to send positive messages that show that the public transport sector is adapting to the new times and creating incentives to use its services.