The Government has relaxed lockdown measures considerably in recent weeks; people can now form social bubbles in outdoor spaces and shops are opening up for business. Whilst writing this, the Government advice is still to work from home where possible, but you may be starting to think about how you will commute to work when it is safe to do so.
During the Downing Street COVID-19 briefing on June 13th, Transport Secretary Grant Shapps revealed new proposals to encourage commuters to walk and cycle to work. To enable this, a £250 million emergency travel fund has been launched, as the first round of a host of transport investments announced in February.
How has coronavirus impacted public transport?
The numbers of people using public transport during lockdown were significantly lower than under normal circumstances. With the Government advising that only key workers and those who can’t work from home should commute, and with many people not working at all because of being furloughed, public transport has been eerily quiet during the COVID-19 lockdown.
London in particular saw a massive drop in demand. TfL has been running reduced services across its network of trains and buses, including a closure of the Waterloo and City line, no night Tube or night Overground services and a limited service on all other lines.
As the Government is encouraging more people to return to work this will change gradually. Service levels have been slowly returning to usual levels since May 18th – visit the TfL website to stay up to date.
However, the numbers of passengers on public transport could still be 20% lower than normal after all lockdown restrictions end. A poll by SYSTRA has found train use could fall by 27%.
Then there are the changes commuters will face once they embark on their journey. From June 15th wearing a face covering on public transport became mandatory, and those that don’t observe the rule could face a fine of £100. Police have been handing out face masks and turning away passengers at stations around the Tube network to ensure the rule is observed.
Meanwhile, buses have been limited to carrying just 20 people (25 at driver’s discretion) to ensure social distancing on public transport is maintained where practicable.
How do I get to work? – post lockdown alternatives to train travel
So, with all this disruption, getting to work after lockdown will pose some serious challenges for the nation’s workforce.
Transport Focus and London TravelWatch have called for more reassurances from the Government for passengers commuting to work on trains after lockdown.
A survey from Transport Focus found that three in five passengers wouldn’t feel comfortable riding trains unless proper social distancing measures are put in place.
Plus, 83% think hand sanitisers should be available in stations, on trains and at Tube stops to mitigate the risks of travelling in close proximity.
So, with much uncertainty and anxiety around returning to commuting via public transport, what other options are available to Brits looking to head back to the office?
Cycling and walking
Cycling looks set to be a popular commuting method post COVID-19. The Government has announced a £250 million scheme to create additional cycle lanes across the country; Transport Secretary Mr Shapps said that the funding would pay for new measures including pop-up bike lanes and wider pavements, with work to be completed within weeks.
The Mayors of London and Manchester have announced the closure of some roads to boost pedestrian and cycle routes.
How to start commuting to work by bike
- Check whether your employer has a Cycle to Work scheme
- Buy or rent a bike
- Wear protective gear and hi-vis clothing
- Ensure you know your route
Driving will be a popular option for car owners, and car rentals may well see an uptake in usage. It could also drive up the demand for car finance deals as people look to finance a new car. With the guarantee of being in a sealed, air tight space, those with cars will likely prefer to travel in their vehicles than travel by train or bus.
However, the sheer number of people opting to travel by car might make this an unfavourable option due to high levels of traffic. Driving may prove so popular that congestion will even exceed pre lockdown figures.
Furthermore, the congestion charge and the trouble of finding a parking space could put off many workers, especially Londoners, from commuting by car each day.
If you do decide to commute by car, it could prove prudent to get a check-up or an MOT from your local garage. This could be particularly beneficial if your car hasn’t been driven regularly for the last few months. Additionally, ensuring your breakdown cover policy has requisite levels of cover for the journeys you plan to make will protect you should something go wrong.
Remember if you’re involved in an accident, you’ll need to have up to date car insurance that covers you using your car for commuting so you aren’t hit with unexpected costs.
Alternatively, you might consider travelling by motorbike due to their manoeuvrability in traffic. You would need to make sure you are properly insured before getting on a bike, so take a look at our bike insurance deals.
E-scooters are becoming more popular every day. Rental e-scooters are going to be legal on the UKs roads, so they may become a viable way to commute to work.
Uber and many other ride hailing apps have made face masks mandatory on their services, so it's something to bear in mind if you plan to travel via this mode of transport. They may be more expensive than some other forms of transport, including driving your own car, but, on the plus side, you wouldn’t need to worry about parking.
Consider off-peak travel
TfL have announced that the busiest times on their network during this period are between 05:45-08:15 and 16:00-17:30. Travelling outside of this window may provide the best opportunity to travel while following social distancing.
Continue working from home where possible
The Government still recommend working from home when possible. Employers will have their own opinions and plans on when employees should return to the office, and many will continue a working from home policy for the foreseeable future.
Checklist for safer travel as lockdown measures ease
If you have no choice but to travel on public transport, consider the following:
- Travel at off peak times, avoiding rush hour: 05:45-08:15 and 16:00-17:30
- Wear a face mask on public transport
- Wash your hands before and after travelling
- Observe social distancing guidelines
- Take the most direct route, avoid busy interchanges
- Follow the latest advice from TfL and National Rail
- Check service updates frequently
What can employers do to help ease the transition from remote to office working?
Employers have a lot of responsibility for making their workplaces safe for employees to return to. This will ease fears, and do much to get the economy moving again. Boris Johnson has said his backing of face mask adoption is partly informed by giving commuters increased confidence in returning to work.
To help their employees travel safely, employers can offer improved facilities and support for alternative forms of commuting to work. With the increased number of cyclists and motorists on the road, boosting the facilities for cyclists can go a long way to getting people back to the office.
Providing additional bike racks for employees to safely store their bikes during working hours will also help win employees’ trust.
For those wishing to drive, more parking spaces near to the office could prompt more people to drive in to work.
Returning to the office
If you are planning on going back to the office, we hope you stay safe. Browsing our breakdown cover, bike insurance and car insurance deals can ensure you are protected when you start driving motor vehicles regularly again.