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Long term effect of covid on passenger numbers

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aavm

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Several of my friend who live in the south east have gotten very used to working from home.

The ones inside the M25 are open to the idea of returning to the office. The ones outside have gotten used to saving an hour (or 2) a day, each way, and £2K+ annual season tickets. There's **no** way they are going to return to 5 day a week commuting. And the company accountant, if staff only work 1 or 2 days a week in the office, then you only need 1 or 2 floors, not 5, of that expensive central London office space.

So, if there is a permeant fall in the number of commuters, who pay premium fares, that will mean a lot less money for the rail industry, and a lot less money to subsidise the quieter south east commuter lines.

Airlines have been cutting staff costs, I don't see the rail industry having that as an easy option. Given Government borrowing, that's not an easy option either. Something has to give.

The rail industry will have to be very agile to adapt.
 
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Yew

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So I think numbers will decline, but that's not a bad thing, as we were starting to run out of cheap and easy options to increase capacity in the London commuter belt anyway.
 

yorksrob

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If you're in the South East, I wouldn't be too worried. Frequencies may well reduce due to lower passenger numbers, but I can't see any actual route cuts happenning down there.

The lines in the South East that were quieter before the Pandemic tend to be those avoiding London that are more geared towards local and leisure travel than London commuting (Marshlink, Maidstone West, Coastway etc). You might find that these pick up much more quickly than the commuter ones.
 

dctraindriver

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No, run a London based walking club that does train station to train station walks - https://www.walkingclub.org.uk/walk/
Thanks for the link. I’ll have a good look as missing a good walk during lockdown.

So I think numbers will decline, but that's not a bad thing, as we were starting to run out of cheap and easy options to increase capacity in the London commuter belt anyway.
As a driver it really did get silly some mornings. Long dwell times, doors not able to close. Packed platforms. Once this is managed hopefully the trains will be busy rather than crammed.
 

Carlisle

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There's **no** way they are going to return to 5 day a week commuting. .
It’s too early to say with any certainty, If the public health situation improves significantly in a few months time, government might try & incentivise employers to return staff on a large scale to their offices, which may or may not succeed
 
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ChrisC

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No, run a London based walking club that does train station to train station walks - https://www.walkingclub.org.uk/walk/
Thanks for that very useful link. I’m always looking for good walks when I’m staying in different parts of the UK. I think when I’m away this year I will be doing lots more walking and less travelling on trains and buses whilst this mask wearing is still in force.
 

Hadders

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Welcome to the forum :) I must say I do like your website and I have done a number of walks across the south east. The route instructions are second to none.

As to your question I don't think anyone can say what will happen to rail travel with any certainty once things return to normal. My view is that if you work in an office the five day a week commute is finished. It was on its way out anyway - at my office in central London was dead on Fridays pre-covid with most people choosing to work from home. Covid will accelerate this change. Most employers will have a hybrid of both office based activity and working from home. Interestingly my employer is currently consulting on adding home as an additional workplace location with the expectation that on average 40% of time will be spent in the office with 60% being from home. There are of course many jobs where it isn't possible to work from home and so a five day a week traditional commute will continue for these people.

I do think that working from home will increase long distance commuting. For example why live in Godalming or Potters Bar if you're travelling into the office 2 days a week. Why not live in York or Macclesfield where you'd probably get better value for money from a housing point of view and have no overall increase in travel costs for a two day a week commute.

We'll probably see more leisure journeys once restrictions ease. Interestingly before the November lockdown Saturdays had clearly become the busiest day of the week for rail travel - and this was out large scale events driving travel.
 

infobleep

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I use to commute most days into work with maybe 1 day a week at home. It could have been more but I liked the office environment.

It suited me. Then on 17 March I stopped going into offices and stayed at home.

I have saved on season ticket costs. When I do next go into an office that isn't my home, work will paid as it's no my usual place of work.

Whilst I wish I could travel on trains again most days and run to the station for exercise, life has moved on.

Work prefer to have most staff at home at anyone time, as it saves on office space. That won't change. People will go in occasionally to meet up but mostly we'll be at home.

Now if other companies have decent enough IT to support home working, they might do the same.

OK so I did prefer working in an office in the past to home working. However, wluld I prefer to have season ticket costs now or pocket the additional money to use for something else? Possibly the latter, especially if work will now pay my travel costs for all occasional travel into an office.
 

dan5324

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It’s weird. It just shows just how much the railways rely on the office commuters. Whilst roads are slightly quieter, still no where near deserted like they were during lockdown 1 and some roads are just as busy as they are during normal times. I fear many will just realise how convenient and sometimes cheaper the car can be and will just stick with that.

Certainly isn’t the age of the train anymore. Age of the automobile
 

The Ham

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It’s weird. It just shows just how much the railways rely on the office commuters. Whilst roads are slightly quieter, still no where near deserted like they were during lockdown 1 and some roads are just as busy as they are during normal times. I fear many will just realise how convenient and sometimes cheaper the car can be and will just stick with that.

Certainly isn’t the age of the train anymore. Age of the automobile

The issue is that roads aren't congested and so people are using them, so if those many office workers return to work, even part time, then chances are congestion will return.

If that happens it'll make car driving less attractive.

However on the wider point of will rail see significant falls in rail use. I suspect that the answer is no.

Let's say that there's 1,000 passengers on the railways, well whilst 670 are comutters there's still 330 who aren't and so may not change their travel because of Covid-19.

Of those 670 there's going to be some who opt not to WFH at all or can't (in the latter there's likely to be school and college aged children as well as those jobs where is not viable), given that at the worst of the lockdown there was at least 10% of rail travel continuing (including when schools were closed) it's not unreasonable to say that 25% would be unaffected.

That leaves 503, so even if everybody stopped all their commuting rail use would fall by 50%. However that's highly unlikely, as nearly everybody would have some office time. Therefore is a case of what sort of split is most likely to be the average across everybody.

I suspect that WFH an average of 2 or 3 days a week would be a fairly likely average. That's then a fall of 40% or 60% on that 503, so a fall of between 200 and 300. That would put the maximum overall fall at between 20% and 30%.

However even then there's likely to be other factors to consider. For instance:
- that's passenger numbers, not revenue, with annual season tickets being very cheap compared to turn up and go prices then the fall in revenue may well not be that much
- likewise if you're traveling less frequently you may travel further, especially if that travel time is then counted as working, this could also further reduce revenue falls
- we've assumed 25% don't change (and we've seen username rates of over 35% over the summer and autumn) if that figure was 35% then the falls would be in the 18% to 26%. It could even be higher than that.
- the rise in WFH would likely impact car use too, now if you've only got to go to work infrequently why would you need 2 cars in the household (now some will keep then regardless, but other won't) as such there could be some trips a year for which there's a need for something other (as the one car is already being used) as such rail maybe used, which increases leisure travel by rail
- likewise there could be some who start using rail for their travel to work, even if that's just because they WFH 2 days a week and drive in 2 days (as their other half is WFH those days) and use the train for 1 day (when their other half is also working and takes the car
- the massive increase in home delivery will mean that owning a car for supermarket deliveries makes little sense, this will further erode the need for some to own a car, again this could lead to some small increases in leisure travel (as well as car club/car hire use)
- it's been a fairly ongoing trend that young people tend not to drive, with the ability to only need to be in the office a few days a week that becomes easier to do and so encourages this
- likewise if you're only going in a few days a week then cycling becomes more attractive rather than driving, as you're less likely to get rained on (and if you can pick when you do that reduces your risk yet further), add in the rise of e-bikes (so a lot less effort required, so no need to get hot and sweaty, as even if you want to do it for exercise you can do so on the way home) and those car commutes of less than 5 miles start to look more at risk. However cycling 40 miles to seeac friend isn't practical and so it could also mean more leisure travel on the railways.

Overall I wouldn't be surprised if the overall fall was in the 10% to 20% range (especially if we are considering revenue and/or miles traveled rather than passenger numbers).

Now whilst we may well see that hit hardest in the South East in the peak, it's not uncommon for peak services to be running with many more people on each train than there are seats and so rail may become nicer to do (which in turn makes it nicer for more people to do).

Overall it's likely that where things are likely to be cut would be:
- extra peak for services
- some local services to minor stations, however some could still see similar frequencies by faster services being slowed down
- more services staying on their own branchline and feeding into more frequent and longer trains

For instance rather than running 8tph with 3 coaches from 6 different branches and 2 along the mainline you'd run 4tph along the mainline with 8 coaches and 6 branchline services, probably running more frequently, with 2 coaches. The change time between the branches would reduce and the frequency on the branches would increase reducing the risk of missed connections, making rail more attractive. Your staff costs would increase a little as would your lease costs would increase a little, however the risk of delays would fall significantly saving a load of money and the rail service would likely attract many more people than the loss of a direct service increasing the revenue (hopefully enough to cover those extra costs).

Especially given that it would then be much easier to travel along the branch and then "the wrong way" along the mainline. As this would make more journey options viable.
 

Philip

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I think by the second half of this year numbers might return to the 2001-2002 levels we saw in the aftermath of Hatfield and the foot-and-mouth crisis. Working from home might seem easy and the way to go atm, but once social distancing measures become a thing of the past and the economy improves then I suspect most office workers will gradually return to the office - as this is still a much more efficient means of working and holding meetings than doing it from home and using zoom. I would expect this decade to follow a similar path to the 2000s, with rail travel gradually increasing year-on-year, to the point of capacity being stretched again by the second half of the decade.
 

The Ham

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I think by the second half of this year numbers might return to the 2001-2002 levels we saw in the aftermath of Hatfield and the foot-and-mouth crisis. Working from home might seem easy and the way to go atm, but once social distancing measures become a thing of the past and the economy improves then I suspect most office workers will gradually return to the office - as this is still a much more efficient means of working and holding meetings than doing it from home and using zoom. I would expect this decade to follow a similar path to the 2000s, with rail travel gradually increasing year-on-year, to the point of capacity being stretched again by the second half of the decade.

Generally I'd agree, the only things I'd say is that the fall wouldn't be even across the whole network and there's (assuming the vaccination process works well) likely to be some fairly rapid growth late this year/early next once restrictions are eased significantly.
 

aavm

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The difference this time is the internet. Before, people had no choice, they had to catch the train. Now, it's possible to work from home, there will be a lot of resistance, especially from the long distance commuters, to go back to normal.
 

The Ham

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The difference this time is the internet. Before, people had no choice, they had to catch the train. Now, it's possible to work from home, there will be a lot of resistance, especially from the long distance commuters, to go back to normal.

Indeed, however if you're going to WFH 80% of the time (either 1 day a week, or 1 week in 5, or any other combination) or less then there's less need to be in Esher and so you could move to Exeter and be able to still save money.

Maybe not on your travel, but your housing costs would be lower.

However where it could really come into its own is the ability to be able to have a better work/life balance as you could be on the beach or on moors fairly quickly (maybe even quick enough to enjoy them after work, but certainly at weekends and holidays without needing to go away).
 

All Line Rover

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There's a strange assumption in this thread that all commuters are subsidised. No they aren't. Only full-time commuters are subsidised. Part-time commuters requiring a choice of available trains either buy the same season tickets as full time commuters, or fully unregulated Anytime fares.

With a yearly season ticket from Macclesfield or York to London costing little more each week than one Anytime Return ticket, a 2-day-a-week commuter will be paying the same price for a season ticket as a 5-day-a-week commuter. That's around £20k/year, including tube. You'd have to be a millionaire to consider that reasonable for a commute and, even then, I expect many millionaires would consider £20k/year on a lengthy commute a waste of money.

If hordes of people move hundreds of miles away from London to switch to 1 or 2 day-a-week long-distance commutes, this would, in the long-term, actually increase the rail industry's fare intake from commuters (but not necessarily from business travellers).
 

Bishopstone

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Leisure travel will bounce back quickly, and strongly. I expect there will be some reallocation of rolling stock resource (ie train lengths) from commuter to leisure flows this summer, and thank goodness GWR now have 10-coach sets for the west country, because they’ll be heaving come August.

On the commuter flows, especially to London, I expect the 2019 Saturday timetable will provide sufficient capacity for the forseeable future. Peak extras will be cut, to save money at the margins and ease any train crew recruitment/training bottlenecks caused by the pandemic.
 

bramling

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It’s weird. It just shows just how much the railways rely on the office commuters. Whilst roads are slightly quieter, still no where near deserted like they were during lockdown 1 and some roads are just as busy as they are during normal times. I fear many will just realise how convenient and sometimes cheaper the car can be and will just stick with that.

Certainly isn’t the age of the train anymore. Age of the automobile

That’s okay until the roads start filling up again, especially at peak times. Then all of a sudden the train becomes attractive again. The train is also safer - round here in normal times there’s normally a pretty serious accident on the A1(M) in the Stevenage-Welwyn area at least once a week, sometimes several. Likewise London commuters will continue to experience the usual issues like lack of parking, and perhaps added cost if Khan brings in his divisive and parochial outsider charge.
 

387star

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Indeed, however if you're going to WFH 80% of the time (either 1 day a week, or 1 week in 5, or any other combination) or less then there's less need to be in Esher and so you could move to Exeter and be able to still save money.

Maybe not on your travel, but your housing costs would be lower.

However where it could really come into its own is the ability to be able to have a better work/life balance as you could be on the beach or on moors fairly quickly (maybe even quick enough to enjoy them after work, but certainly at weekends and holidays without needing to go away).
Which could push house prices up there
 

The Ham

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Which could push house prices up there

Only if enough people want to go to the same place, chances are there's be those who would but others who go to Wales, to the Peak District, Lake District, Scotland, and so on.

Whilst that's likely to have increase process a bit, the other thing to consider is that many of those who would want to do that anyway would likely be those who would be looking to have a second home anyway.
 

Sweetjesus

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I've noticed an increasing trend of some employer offering some kind of hybrid office/WFH working. If this arrangment becomes popular, I can see a quite few people moving out of their commuter belts to nice places and commute in once/twice a week.

I could see an increase in intercity travel in some routes.
 

Hadders

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I've noticed an increasing trend of some employer offering some kind of hybrid office/WFH working. If this arrangment becomes popular, I can see a quite few people moving out of their commuter belts to nice places and commute in once/twice a week.

I could see an increase in intercity travel in some routes.
Absolutely this. My employer has added 'home' to our contracts as an alternative work location. Current thinking is that when things return to normal is that on average 40% of time will be office based and 60% at home. There will of course be exceptions both ways but this shows the general trend.
 

chris11256

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The interesting thing is what this does to the government's fares policy. If people carry on working from home, why should I pay a premium to travel on a morning 'peak' service that's just as quiet as one at lunchtime. I fear we're going to fall into the trap of rapidly ramping up fares to try and cover costs, while driving people away with those same fare increases.
 

dan5324

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If it becomes no jab no travel then I think it’s safe to say public transport will be killed off.
 
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