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Commuter behaviour forced to adapt with post-pandemic world

post-pandemic world changes commuter behaviour

At the start of 2022, the government announced a pilot to give 11 councils funding to boost community engagement and participation in neighbourhood planning. It will help more people living in urban and deprived areas of the country have a say in development decisions including the location of new homes, shops and amenities, as well as the infrastructure that’s needed.

It comes as a time when companies are re-evaluating where and when their employees work. Though some companies are encouraging a full return to working in the office, others are embracing hybrid working models.

At the same time, people are keen to take advantage of less rigid working patterns by moving out of cities or suburban areas and into more rural ones. There’s no doubt that this changes the dynamics for town planners.

Making the right assumptions

Planners have always used quantitative data and qualitative research to identify planning needs and generate the right strategy for communities. But the assumptions they may have made in the past have been turned on their heads by post-pandemic working.

By analysing data pre, during and post-pandemic we can see that A1(M) road use is broadly back to normal levels. There is a correlation between greater use of cars to get to a destination and restrictions easing. However, the same isn’t true for city or East Coast rail travel. Use of these services is still significantly down. The train is no longer taking the stain.

Delving deeper into the data we can understand more about attitudes and behaviour.

As you would expect, use of cars, rail and bus dropped significantly in lockdowns. You just need to look at rail numbers for an illustration of the dramatic change - trips fell by 80%.

As restrictions eased, it was anticipated that passenger numbers would start to recover but that’s not the case. In fact, rail demand has only returned to about 40% of pre-Covid levels.

use of cars, rail and bus dropped significantly in lockdowns

And whereas the most popular time to travel by rail before the pandemic was during peak commuting hours, now it’s more likely to be at 10 am. This corresponds with the times off-peak rail travel fares apply and could also be related to long-distance travel into or through the region from London or Scotland.

the most popular time to travel by rail before the pandemic was during peak commuting hours, now it’s more likely to be at 10am

Peak commuting times at the start and end of the day do still apply to rail, but they are slight, because overall use is running at 25-30% of pre-covid volumes.

What’s more, journeys are dominated by much longer distances of 100km or more. This represents a 50% increase in the average journey length when compared to pre-pandemic data. In short, few passengers are using the train for short trips.

That provides an insight into the post-pandemic story for road and motorway users. Pre-Covid, the A1(M) was busy early in the morning and late afternoon on weekdays. Although less marked, those peak commuting times are still true post-Covid, but they have been joined by a third peak at 10 am.

Further analysis suggests that the average journey length on the A1(M) has shortened, indicating that the road is replacing rail and bus for commutes to work.

The people movement insights (produced from anonymised mobile network data) by Citi Logik for Durham provides valuable input for planning the region’s housing and infrastructure needs. This is especially true for those tasked with identifying ways to get people back on to the train and switching to use alternative greener options to cars.

Overall, it can help inform the debate related to specific questions:

  • What is the customer experience train services need to deliver?

  • Are timetables aligned to passenger needs?

  • How does the fare structure need to adapt to patterns and can travel be incentivised to reduce the burden on the public purse?

It’s an approach that could be applied up and down the country and used to understand attitudes and behaviour to travel modes, and model travel patterns that make cities, towns and villages places people want to live and work.

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