Pan-Northern Transport after Covid-19: Future scenarios and alternative directions

Author Tom Arnold

This 2020 resource reflects on Transport for the North’s Strategic Transport Plan to transform Northern England’s transport network. It looks at how Covid-19 and associated shifting work patterns, has impacted this original 2019 plan. Although the focus is on Northern England, it could be useful for thinking about public transport, mobility and accessibility post-pandemic in other places, with more general mobility trends also discussed.

Date added 17 August 2021
Last updated 17 August 2021

This policy briefing document outlines Transport for the North’s (TfN) Strategic Transport Plan to transform Northern England’s transport network. Whilst TfN’s £70bn investment plans in pan-Northern rail and road infrastructure were initially premised on the prediction that more people would be travelling between cities in Northern England for work, and that more rail usage could help with sustainability, the Covid-19 pandemic has brought changes in mobility. For instance, now more people are working from home, meaning that less commuting between cities is needed, which could continue. This has accelerated pre-pandemic changes to mobility, where people were already travelling less, especially by car. We have also seen an increase in cycling. The author suggests that any future transport plans should be reflected on and adapted for these new conditions, with less of a focus on home-to-work commuting, instead understanding the nuanced ways people will continue to use transport networks for work, leisure, and care.

Four different future scenarios for pan-Northern transport are outlined in the resource:

  1. Compact and Digital- brownfield development increases urban density, digital improvements facilitate working from home, cost of energy rises so transport more expensive.
  2. Compact and Travel Friendly- brownfield development increases urban density, travelling to the workplace remains desirable, energy costs stay low so transport remains affordable.
  3. Dispersed and Digital- urban sprawl increases, digital improvements facilitate working from home, cost of energy rises so transport more expensive.
  4. Dispersed and Travel Friendly- urban sprawl increases, energy costs stay low so transport remains affordable, long-distanced commuting facilitated.

The author concludes by reflecting (p.7):

More fundamentally, perhaps, we must plan for a post-COVID world in which the office-based 9-5 is rarer than it is today (if not eliminated entirely), where the transport network pays more attention to parents, children and carers, and where environmental and social aspirations have equal status to transport-based economic targets.