News Release

Research foresees an end to deregulated competitive public transport

Peer-Reviewed Publication

University of Kent

Research from the University of Kent predicts an end to deregulated competitive public transport in the UK as a consequence of Covid-19 social distancing measures leading to drastically reduced ridership, requiring a major rethinking of the provision of public transport.

This paper, published in Transport Policy, argues that the situation will require a fundamental approach to long-term policy for transport as a whole. This is an opportunity to reconstruct the system whilst addressing such problems as the environmental impact of transport, congestion and questions of transport justice such as accessibility to transport for disadvantaged groups in society.

Covid-19 has been a major disruptor on all aspects of the transport system, local, national and international. This has been significant for both the UK's public sector and private sector operators and has thrown most business models into disarray, demonstrating the system's fragility to crisis. Whilst the UK Government provides funding for services to continue amid the pandemic, the length of the emergency and the slow recovery threaten this ability to maintain support until demand returns to pre-pandemic levels.

In the UK central government borrowing in fiscal year 2020/21 is expected to reach almost £400 billion as the economy shrinks by an expected 11.3 per cent and unemployment rises to 7.5 per cent. Continued government funding for the public transport system is not sustainable for current pandemic levels of use, in which ridership is down across the system.

In addition to this, the increasing inequality in accessibility to transport according to income, age, disability and other individual and social characteristics was a pre-pandemic issue of major disparity, whilst the environmental crisis continues with transport accounting for a significant share of global emissions. These older issues continue and require immediate addressing.

The paper argues that returning to the old normal is unlikely and that public transport must adjust to increased home working and a fear of crowded spaces. This potentially spells the end of the prevailing model of a deregulated competitive public transport in the UK.

Roger Vickerman, Emeritus Professor of European Economics at Kent and author of the paper said: 'Public transport's flaws required urgent addressing prior to the pandemic and now much remains to be done in designing an inclusive transport system. In the light of the pandemic, we are presented with this opportunity now and may use it to establish a system that is efficient, environmentally considerate, and to the benefit of its users that currently suffer its disadvantages.'


The paper 'Will Covid-19 put the public back in public transport? A UK perspective' is published in Transport Policy (Professor Roger Vickerman, Emeritus Professor of European Economics, School of Economics, University of Kent).

DOI: 10.1016/j.tranpol.2021.01.005


For further information or interview requests, please contact Sam Wood at the University of Kent Press Office.

Tel: 07713087981


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Notes to Editors

The University of Kent is a leading UK university producing world-class research, rated internationally excellent and leading the way in many fields of study. Our 20,000 students are based at campuses and centres in Canterbury, Medway, Brussels and Paris.

With 97% of our research judged to be of international quality in the most recent Research Assessment Framework (REF2014), our students study with some of the most influential thinkers in the world. Universities UK recently named research from the University as one of the UK's 100 Best Breakthroughs of the last century for its significant impact on people's everyday lives.

We are renowned for our inspirational teaching. Awarded a gold rating, the highest, in the UK Government's Teaching Excellence Framework (TEF), we were presented with the Outstanding Support for Students award at the 2018 Times Higher Education (THE) Awards for the second year running.

Our graduates are equipped for a successful future allowing them to compete effectively in the global job market. More than 95% of graduates find a job or study opportunity within six months.

The University is a truly international community with over 40% of our academics coming from outside the UK and our students representing over 150 nationalities.

We are a major economic force in south east England, supporting innovation and enterprise. We are worth £0.9 billion to the economy of the south east and support more than 9,400 jobs in the region.

In March 2018, the Government and Health Education England (HEE) announced that the joint bid by the University of Kent and Canterbury Christ Church University for funded places to establish a medical school has been successful. The first intake of undergraduates to the Kent and Medway Medical School will be in September 2020.

We are proud to be part of Canterbury, Medway and the county of Kent and, through collaboration with partners, work to ensure our global ambitions have a positive impact on the region's academic, cultural, social and economic landscape.

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