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ICE briefing paper: public transport funding after Covid-19 – what happens next?

30 March 2022

Public transport use plummeted due to the Covid-19 pandemic, with some countries and cities experiencing up to 90% decreases in use due to public health restrictions.

The initial trend post-vaccine has seen increased levels of hybrid working, resulting in lower overall public transport use compared to pre-pandemic levels, particularly at peak times.

This overall decrease in passenger journeys has resulted in reduced revenue from fares, which has led to huge budget shortfalls in some cases.

Operators have been reliant on emergency funding and subsidies from governments, but this is being re-evaluated as priorities shift and Covid-19 becomes a managed part of daily lives.

Getting more people onto public transport and implementing policies that support greater take-up of active travel will reduce carbon emissions and improve air quality, while reducing congestion and delivering improved social outcomes.

A sustainable future funding model for public transport must therefore be established and implemented if national and international objectives are to be met.

So, what happens next?

  • Will there be a continual need for further government subsidies or incentives, and will this be palatable to governments and the taxpaying public?
  • Will operators need to find ever-greater efficiencies in providing their services, perhaps to the point where service levels decline? Will business cases for capital projects need to be re-evaluated?
  • Will operators and authorities look to new funding models, such as road pricing, land value capture, and more diversified revenue sources?
  • Will transport policies be considered more holistically, incorporating active travel and ensuring that hybrid working is integrated with sustainable access to work?
  • Are there lessons that can be shared and applied internationally?
  • Or is ‘do nothing’ a viable option – what if passengers begin to return to public transport in the same numbers as pre-pandemic?

ICE wants to hear views from across the sector on these questions and more when considering funding public transport post-pandemic.

Using the ICE’s Infrastructure Blog as the platform for debate, we are keen for opinions and thoughts on the main issues policymakers should be considering and addressing to be brought to the fore.

This briefing paper provides an initial starting point for this discussion, which will culminate in an online panel debate providing an honest look at options for what policymakers need to do next.

Please contact the policy team if you are interested in authoring a guest blog on this topic or attending the panel debate.

Attend the debate

ICE briefing paper: public transport funding after Covid-19 – what happens next?

Content type: Policy

Last updated: March 2022

Authors: ICE

  • David Hawkes, head of policy at ICE