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Real-time passenger data indicates the impact of Coronavirus on the UK rail industry

Rail passenger usage could temporarily decrease by an average of 70% during times of social distancing and self-isolation.

Earlier in the week transport secretary Grant Shapps indicated that rail companies had already seen a “big drop off” in passenger numbers (18-20%) due to the outbreak of Coronavirus. However, data from our real-time communications platform, Passenger Connect, suggests that the figure was likely to be higher than 18-20% and is now set to increase at a staggering rate.

On Monday, prior to the government’s new guidance on working from home and social distancing, our platform indicated a 27% decrease in passenger interactions that show intent to travel by train in comparison with the previous Monday (9th March).

Furthermore, when comparing yesterday’s (17th March) passenger interactions with Tuesday 10th March, our data highlights an 75% decrease in passenger intent to travel, with this figure set to remain pretty consistent throughout the rest of the week. This data comes from millions of UK rail passengers using the platform for live journey planning and updates.

Passenger interactions with platform

The transport sector has widely been acknowledged as one of the key industries to suffer from the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, especially following the government’s announcement that everyone in the UK should avoid “non-essential” travel and contact with others. The sheer volume of rolling updates on the virus, coupled with the ability to only analyse data from day-to-day ticket sales, is making it extremely difficult for industries like the transport sector to respond to the crisis, let alone understand the true impact of the outbreak.

However, insights derived from real-time passenger behaviour have the potential to help the rail industry build a clearer picture of their customers’ needs during the crisis and, more importantly, plan a response.

Although the sharp decline in passenger figures may be daunting for the rail industry, being able to see real-time demand across different locations could help limit the number of ‘ghost services’ running and highlight opportunities for short-term cost saving during one the most challenging periods in the history of global travel.

Despite large numbers of the population planning to work from home, there will still be many reliant on the rail network and wider public transport system, most noticeably those working for the NHS and our other public services. By being able to identify demand by location, means rail companies would be able to identify which services are crucial and need to continue running.

During this challenging time, we will continue to monitor the impact and share updated stats. Stay safe everyone.