The need for an urgent debate around funding models for transport systems has been highlighted by the Institution of Civil Engineers in a new discussion paper.
With restrictions across the UK due to ease next month, patterns of use on public transport may begin to change once again.
The discussion paper – Public transport funding post-Covid – says that given the shift away from a traditional 9-5 working model, revenue models based on peak time travel will require rethinking.
It adds that while there will undoubtedly be a need for government subsidies to continue on a short-term basis, a continuing operating subsidy may be an unpalatable option to taxpayers, and a route to a declining service.
Operators will need to think about new funding models, including policies like road user charging and land value capture, how to fund and finance services on a systems-basis, and more diversified revenue sources.
The paper says: “While there is a large degree of uncertainty as to the extent public transport use will bounce back as vaccine roll-outs continue and restrictions lift, the shifts in where and how people live and work that have been witnessed over the past year are likely to drive lasting, structural change in travel patterns.
“This has major implications for governments and public transport authorities, which have built substantial parts of their infrastructure, services and revenue models around transporting commuters during peak hours on a consistent basis.
“Funding models which focus on transport systems covering their operating costs should therefore be a very important concern.”
The paper calls for governments and operators to take these decisions soon and avoid the costs of “uncertain, short-term bailout packages without a clear transition plan”.
It says these could begin a “spiral of decline and cuts to both public transport services and capital projects that would take years to recover from”.
Overall, long-term infrastructure planning should still be driven by existing long-term challenges, including population growth, meeting the carbon emission reduction targets and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“As the world moves towards recovery, there is an opportunity to do things differently,” the paper concludes. “The policy choices made regarding spending and investments on public transport during recovery and beyond will determine countries’ ability to reach sustainable development goals and national strategic objectives.”
The funding package comprises an extraordinary support grant of £1.08bn.
It includes plans to draw up a memorandum of understanding between the government, TfL and the London Borough of Hammersmith and Fulham to fund the reopening of Hammersmith Bridge – initially to pedestrians, cyclists and river traffic and, depending on cost, to motorists.
The previous funding package – worth between £1.7bn and £1.8bn – was agreed in November last year. It was due to end in March but was extended until last month, with plans to agree a new deal following the mayoral election.
While there is no one-size-fits-all approach to ensuring sustainable funding for public transport going forward, there are certain principles that an effective transportation funding mechanism should be built on.
Department of Civil Engineering https://www.ibu.edu.ba/department-of-civil-engineering/