Smart Transport

Opinion: Covid must not be an excuse for backsliding

 two busnessmens' fingers locked in a pinky swear

Pre-pandemic, the Government was promising ‘bold and ambitious action’ to address transport climate issues. The goals can still be achieved, but the challenge is vast, says Darren Shirley

Before Covid-19, the Government had begun to set out an agenda that would have seen our transport system transformed.

Greater levels of sustainable transport would have been achieved through increased active travel and public transport combined with a move to zero emission vehicles. 

Just weeks before the lockdown, the need to reduce carbon emissions to net zero and bring air pollution within legal limits led Transport Secretary Grant Shapps to promise “bold and ambitious action” to ensure that “public transport and active travel will be the natural first choice for our daily activities”.

Just a few months have passed since Shapps made those statements, but transport has undergone a seismic change which no one could have predicted. 

As the UK begins the process of recovery, the need for sustainable transport has only strengthened, but now the question is how do we ensure that those promises are not forgotten in these uncertain times and in the rush to get the economy back on its feet?

Campaign for Better Transport’s latest report, Covid-19 Recovery: Renewing the Transport System, examines the scale of the challenge ahead and makes the case for a green, transport-led recovery post-Covid. 

The ongoing effect of the pandemic on the transport network is unprecedented, putting the very viability of public transport at risk.

In the short term, reduced passenger numbers have had profound financial implications for public transport operators, and the continued need for social distancing will impact on fare revenue for the foreseeable future. 

Despite Transport for London (TfL) services being back up to 94% of pre-Covid levels, passenger numbers are still only about a fifth of what they were a year ago. 

On the national rail network, where passengers were told to “consider all other forms of transport before using public transport”, numbers are languishing around 15% of normal.

In the longer term, passenger demand could be affected by increased home working, public mistrust in the safety of public transport and the expected economic downturn.

But the long-term economic and social costs of permanently diminishing the public transport system will be much greater than the short-term costs of renewing the sector.

While passenger numbers on public transport remain low, car traffic on the other hand is back to between 80% and 95% of pre-pandemic levels.

If public transport remains a ‘last resort’ for journeys we could even see car traffic surpassing pre-lockdown levels.

One of the upsides of the lockdown was the increase in walking and cycling, but it’s hard to see active travel remaining an attractive option for many as traffic returns to our streets and winter beckons.

The challenge, then, is vast; but so too is the opportunity. Transport policy will have to adapt to ensure social, environmental and economic benefits are secured following the pandemic. 

Read Darren Shirley's full article in the latest issue of Smart Transport Journal


Watch now: Connecting Policy To Solutions Virtual Conference 2021

Smart Transport Conference returned on June 8th & 9th, to facilitate pivotal discussions on the future of transport. 

The UK’s most senior public and private sector transport leaders discussed the impact of Covid-19, achieving the Government’s decarbonisation ambitions, the need for more efficient living and better health, and much more.

Kwasi Kwarteng, secretary of state at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), who spoke on BEIS's approach to decarbonising transport, particularly the electrification of the vehicle industry. Watch his presentation below:


Comment as guest

Login  /  Register


No comments have been made yet.

Office Address
  • Smart Transport
    Media House
    Lynch Wood
    PE2 6EA
Join the community
  • Register to receive our digital content / products and service / information about our events.
  • Register now.
  • Conference


Welcome to Smart Transport

Welcome to the Smart Transport website, keeping you up-to-date with the latest news, insight and reports from policymakers and thought leaders.

The Smart Transport brand connects policy to solutions by bringing national government and local authority policymakers together with private sector organisations.

Contact Ernest Olaseinde for more information.

© Bauer Consumer Media Ltd
Media House, Lynch Wood, Peterborough, PE2 6EA - Registered number 01176085 IPSO regulated logo


Smart Transport members

Smart Transport board members


Please note:
By submitting any material to us you are confirming that the material is your own original work or that you have permission from the copyright owner to use the material and to authorise Bauer Consumer Media to use it as described in this paragraph. You also promise that you have permission from anyone featured or
referred to in the submitted material to it being used by Bauer Consumer Media. If Bauer Consumer Media receives a claim from a copyright owner or a person
featured in any material you have sent us, we will inform that person that you have granted us permission to use the relevant material and you will be responsible for paying any amounts due to the copyright owner or featured person and/or for reimbursing Bauer Consumer Media for any losses it has suffered as a result.