Perceptions of transmission and mitigation of SARS-CoV-2: public transport Theme 3 WP1 Deep dives: Views of experts, organisational leaders, workers and passengers between January – May 2021

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A qualitative study was carried out to determine the perceptions of the risk of SARS-CoV-2 transmission and of the effectiveness of mitigation measures that were introduced in the Public Transport sector in the UK. The study focussed on ground transport in UK - rail (including light rail / tram), bus and taxi. To inform the study design we carried out a literature review and had extensive engagement with relevant stakeholders in the sector.

We carried out 47 interviews comprising 17 experts (policy / research / industry / regulators) and 13 organisational leaders (including unions) between January – March 2021, and with 5 workers and 12 passengers between April – May 2021. Interview data were analysed thematically using NVivo.

The perceived risk of transmission of SARS-CoV-2 was generally low but risk not constant. However, this was within the context of low passenger numbers and relatively good adherence to guidance. Feelings of safety were reliant on observations of compliance with mitigation measures by the transport operators, transport staff, and other passengers, alongside policing of these measures. Confidence to use public transport was seen as a balance between transmission rates, vaccines, mitigations, new variants, and compliance with behaviour.

Most respondents perceived mitigations to be appropriate and effective but relative effectiveness was difficult to determine, as they were all used together. Effectiveness was also perceived as dependent on the relative importance of transmission routes. In addition, effectiveness of behavioural mitigations was seen as being dependent on the compliance by individuals.

Monitoring / policing of mitigations for workers and passengers was challenging. Clear messaging about the effectiveness of the mitigations on public transport was seen to be essential for the return of many passengers.

Different rules in place in devolved nations / different geographical areas could cause confusion.

Company representatives reported that initially, it was difficult to source consistent and timely information to help facilitate decision-making. There was a lack of clear scientific evidence / objective data for the public transport sector. In particular, there is currently still a lack of objective data about the effectiveness of different mitigations, in isolation and together, and it is important that effectiveness of mitigation measures is evaluated. There is also a need to improve our understanding of the impact of messaging and communication on behaviour of staff and passengers.

In conclusion, the perceived individual risk of using public transport was considered to be low, and the mitigation measures were perceived to be effective, but this may be due to the low passenger numbers at the time. It is unclear if the lifting of restrictions in the UK and rise in passenger numbers, since July 2021, will have affected these views. Hence, in order to investigate this, we will be carrying out a limited follow up study, interviewing some of the sample participants again.
Original languageEnglish
PublisherPROTECT National Core Study Report (HSE)
Number of pages62
Publication statusPublished - 18 Feb 2022

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Thomas Ashton Institute


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