COVID-19 has, quite literally, derailed the British transport industry.
Last summer, when the first lockdown was lifted, Great Northern revealed that only 35% of people who commuted pre-March were back on the trains. Similarly, provisional figures for February 2021 from the Department for Transport show a continued downward spiral in daily usage for tubes, trains and buses.
It’s therefore not surprising that Transport for London recently announced it is drawing up a “compelling campaign” to get workers back onto the tube once lockdown ends.
Yet while it’s easy to see the necessity for this campaign, we should question if the key message – an emphasis on safety – is the right one.
Of course, feeling safe is a fundamental need – but arguably, it is not significant enough.
For example, safety does not speak to the fact that Brits are finding everything about this lockdown harder for everything – EXCEPT for work.
For many of us, working from home has lots of benefits (apart from the higher utility bills, of course). In fact, The Office for National Statistics (ONS) has shown that the average UK employee is about £495 a month better off working from home. For those who are saving to buy a home – or even those who simply want more extravagant holidays – it’s very tempting to never return to the office.
So, if safety is unlikely to entice us back onto transport, what might?
This is when we need to consider motivation and intention: two things that behavioural science tells us we must have to drive long-term behaviour change.
Dedicated office space offers an environment where we can collaborate, make friends, and learn about each other easily. Sociability interactions play an important role in how happy employees are long-term because they increase the flow of emotional and informative communication. (It’s probably why flexible working spaces such as WeWork have proved so popular.
Secondly, the beauty of in-person interactions is the ability to be truly engaged and learn from colleagues. While Zoom is now a daily ritual, did you know participants are spending 42% of that time looking at themselves?
Now, that’s not to say transport brands should be advocating a return to five days a week in the office. However, by promoting the benefits of a hybrid remote-office model and positioning commuting as a means to feeling more inspired, motivated, and collaborative at a work – well, that’s a reason to travel.
Temptation bundling – something we want to do + something we should do – is another behavioural science technique that we could successfully deploy when it comes to leisure travel.
Last year, H+K polled 1,500 Brits on their views about the future of the city. In the survey, people expressed their main reasons for visiting cities in the future to shop, visit cultural attractions and eat in restaurants/cafes. By better listening to their passenger’s preferences, transport companies can position themselves as the way for people to enjoy the activities they have longed to do for nearly a year. That in turn generates compelling reasons for us to want to jump on that bus, train, or tube.
Transport companies have spent the last 12 months talking about safety measures. TFL states clearly that those who have travelled think it’s safe. So now it’s about applying more interesting techniques to get people back on board (when they can – of course).