Public transport: lessons learned by the sector through the COVID-19 pandemic

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Background The COVID-19 pandemic had a significant impact on the operations and functionality of the public transport sector in the UK. This paper reflects on the experience of this sector through the pandemic period, and considers recommendations for any future mitigations required for either new COVID-19 waves or a different public health emergency. Methods Semi-structured interviews were carried out with public transport experts, organisational leaders, workers and passengers in two phases: Phase 1 from January to May 2021, and Phase 2 from December 2021 to February 2022. Interviews were analysed thematically. Results Using the ‘What? So What? Now What?’ reflective model, ideas are drawn out to describe (a) what changes occurred, (b) what effects these changes had on service provision as well as perceptions of risk and mitigation and (c) what lessons have been learned and how these findings can feed into pandemic preparedness for the future. Respondent reflections focussed on the importance of communication, leadership, and maintaining compliance. Conclusions The wealth of experience gained through the COVID-19 pandemic in the public transport sector is extremely valuable. Through reflection on this experience, specific recommendations are made relating to these factors, covering: maintaining links across industry, access to information and data, understanding of mitigation effectiveness, improving messaging, challenges of behavioural mitigations, and clear lines of accountability. The recommendations made on the basis of this reflective process will help to improve public health strategy within the public transport sector.
Original languageEnglish
Article number1904
JournalBMC Public Health
Publication statusPublished - 2 Oct 2023


  • COVID-19
  • Coronavirus
  • Control measures
  • Public transport
  • Transmission
  • Longitudinal
  • Reflection

Research Beacons, Institutes and Platforms

  • Thomas Ashton Institute


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