COVID-19 & Public Transport: From Response to Recovery

In Australia and around the world, COVID-19 has affected us all in ways that we could never have anticipated. Take public transport for example. Knowing what we know today, how we will interact, work and travel in the future?

According to Alana Newbrook, General Manager for Advisory at WSP, “Continuation of public transport is essential to our economy and critical to connecting people to jobs, home, schools and essential services, particularly for those who cannot travel by other modes. However, the need for both physical distancing and measures to ensure driver and passenger safety, will continue to impact the capacity of those services.”


To help address these issues WSP has released a white paper today: COVID-19 & Public Transport: From Response to Recovery. Building on discussions around impacts of COVID-19 on transport demand, this paper largely focuses on capacity considerations, and what adjustments to services and travel patterns will be needed as restrictions are lifted and we transition to a ‘new normal’.


“Developed for an Australian context, this white paper builds on WSP’s earlier work in North America, and outlines a framework for assessing the capacity of public transport under different recovery scenarios,” adds Alana. “Its objective is to ensure public transport remains a critical part of the transport system, creating successful cities and thriving places.”


Download the White Paper Now


  • The highest priority for public transport during Stage 2 - Transition will be to maintain the safety of drivers, the frontline workforce and passengers. Measures such as the removal of cash fares, rear-door boarding, use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and increased cleaning will continue to play an important role for some time.

  • COVID-19 will have changed many people’s attitudes towards using public transport and their associated behaviours. Understanding how, where, when and why people will want to travel in future will be fundamental in planning for an effective economic recovery, to both encourage people back to public transport and support the ongoing development of the future transport system to deliver successful city objectives.

  • Three transition scenarios with varying degrees of distancing were assessed. They may require public transport to operate at most between 30% and 50% of total capacity, with specific issues for different modes.

  • In busy metropolitan areas which currently operate with standing room only at peak times, both demand and supply side measures will be needed during Stage 2 – Transition. This could include: staged return of the workforce (e.g. A, B and C teams), peak spreading, promoting a shift to active transport supported by additional infrastructure and a targeted increase in public transport services.

  • Operational considerations are important for passenger behaviour at stops, stations and on vehicles and promoting compliance. Changes to boarding and alighting locations, one-way flows, floor markings and additional operational staff may be required. Timetabling may need to be adjusted to account for longer passenger loading and unloading times.

  • Stage 2 – Transition approaches will need to be adaptable and flexible, to respond rapidly as travel patterns and public health advice changes, based on up-to-date travel and health data.

  • There are many unknowns and questions over how COVID19 will impact the wider future of our transport systems. The huge changes seen in recent months offer an opportunity to re-evaluate and re-prioritise. Congestion and emissions have reduced, people have more time with their families and are engaging more with their local places and communities. There is great potential to lock in these benefits, so some good comes from the challenging situations which COVID-19 has created.

  • It is critical that people feel safe returning to public transport, so that it remains at the heart of transport systems that create successful cities and thriving places.


“While we are facing challenges, the good news is that we are a resilient species and we will get past this pandemic,” adds Alana. “The reality is that transport systems will need to be different. And that’s where the opportunity lies. With some effective planning, analysis and automation, we can adapt our networks to once again be the lifeblood of our communities.”


Download the White Paper Now

For more information, contact Eleanor Short, Senior Principal for Transport Advisory.

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