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Can leisure travel lead the recovery?

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Opinion
Can leisure travel lead the recovery?

Informed analysis backed by the use of real-world data and machine learning is going to become ever-increasingly important in accelerating the recovery of bus patronage.

In the third part of a series on how critical passenger demand data is to operators, we consider the buoyancy of the market for leisure travel. Could this become increasingly important to bus operators in the years ahead and what’s the best way to exploit it?

There is no doubt that the Covid experience has changed how we use public transport. This has mostly meant using bus and rail services less. Commuting trips have declined as work patterns change and large numbers of people adapt to either remote or hybrid work. Shopping trips have also decreased as we now order our goods and services from the comfort of our homes. But there is one form of travel that has bucked the trend and remained relatively buoyant: leisure travel.

In the UK and elsewhere, many of us were nervous about using the bus or train given the strong “avoid public transport” messaging from governments during the pandemic, but leisure travel seemed to be an exception we were willing to make.

Back in September 2020, Peter Hendy, the Chairman of Network Rail Hendy was observing that leisure travel has returned quicker than work travel over the past few weeks.

He told the UK Rail Summit: “One of the scenarios that we might all want to have in our heads is that actually we might be going back to a situation like the fifties where the maximum traffic on the railway was on peak Summer Saturdays and not in what we would now regard as the normal peak hours. But I don't really know that yet.”

We still don’t really know that. But we do know that leisure travel has consistently been a good news story for otherwise beleaguered bus and rail operators.

Fast forward to this Spring and operators were asking themselves whether weekends are the key to patronage recovery.

Figures from the UK’s Department for Transport suggested that public transport patronage was slowly recovering from Covid-19 in Great Britain, but patronage at weekends was exceeding that of weekdays in many cases.

Daily figures from late April suggested that rail patronage over the long Easter weekend was between around 84% of that experienced in early March 2020 before the first Covid-19 national lockdown.

London Underground was reporting patronage of around 65% on weekdays, but much more at weekends with figures in the mid to late-eighties.

Regional bus services outside London also followed this trend and were regularly reporting patronage in the high eighties at weekends, up from figures in the early seventies on weekdays. This is also true in London where patronage was generally around the 70% on weekdays but at the mid to late 80% mark at weekends.

As we move into the Summer, public transport operators will be hoping to further capitalize on this opportunity for growth. High petrol prices may help them to encourage more people on board but at the same time, the cost of living crisis could see a squeeze on discretionary travel. It is now more important than ever to have data-driven insights that will empower decision making.

Data is the key to success and local knowledge and local connections will be vital. Network managers will need the right tools to hand when they are planning bus networks for the very different landscape that will characterize the post Covid-19 era.

CitySwift’s Mobility Intelligence as a Service platform is designed to provide those all important tools. Integrating seamlessly with existing systems it eliminates the barriers and complexity associated with data access and analysis. As operators scrutinise patronage trends in this new era, CitySwift is the only platform that blends GPS, scheduling and ticketing data to reveal new insights into network movement, patronage and performance. 

Learn more about CitySwift’s Mobility Intelligence platform, request a demo or contact us to discover how CitySwift can help you run a network based on the most comprehensive picture of the latest passenger movements.