More people travelling for social reasons since initial COVID-19 restrictions

3 August 2020
60% of survey respondents still concerned about hygiene on public transport
A rising number of Australians are travelling for social and recreational reasons since the initial coronavirus travel restrictions, according to initial findings of a survey by the University of Sydney's Institute of Transport & Logistics Studies.

The survey of over 1,400 Australians suggests the aggregate number of trips increased by 50 percent since the start of the outbreak but is still less than two-thirds of pre-COVID-19 figures.

Conducted between 30 May and 13 June, the survey indicated travel by private car had bounced back at a higher rate than other modes of transport, with a 50 percent increase in car trips since the low of the initial outbreak.

Founding Director of the Institute of Transport & Logistics Studies (ITLS) at the University of Sydney Business School, Professor David Hensher, said the findings suggest two of the most disrupted activities – meeting with friends and visiting restaurants – were seeing a gradual return.

“Australians are slowly venturing out of their homes, particularly for social and recreational purposes, as well both grocery and retail shopping,” said Professor Hensher.

“But this is no time for complacency. Federal and state governments are battling hard to keep people aware of the COVID-19 risk and adhering to physical distancing rules while balancing the need for social interaction.”

Hygiene on public transport still a concern

The research team undertook the first wave of the survey in April, where they found that more than 80 percent of Australians were concerned about hygiene on public transport. Since then, the survey respondents have become somewhat more relaxed, though 60 percent still hold this concern.

One of the biggest benefits of working from home is not having to commute, effectively reducing the number of people travelling each week
Professor David Hensher, Founding Director ITLS

“Our data shows Australians are still worried about the perceived risk of COVID-19, both to their health and the economy,” said Associate Professor Matthew Beck from ITLS, co-author of the study.

“Young respondents aged 18-34 years old were more concerned about cleanliness of public transport than those in other age brackets. Despite this, they are more comfortable with interaction in more dense social environments such as pub and clubs, gyms and exercise and live events.

“Authorities need to remain vigilant and carefully consider the risk of opening too soon (as is occurring with spikes or second waves in a growing number of locations), against the benefit of increased activity, which may end up being only for the short term.”

Working from home is here to stay

Another element of the survey saw respondents answer questions about working from home. The early data reveals employees typically worked seven to eight hours each day from home, with most reporting they were as productive at home as at the office.

Over two-thirds of respondents had no more than five online meetings per week and found them as productive as face-to-face meetings. 

However, significant barriers to productivity were highlighted, including the need to develop new routines, and interruptions from family members.

“Overall, we found that most workers were keen to continue working from home after the pandemic. The support of organisations is critical for this, so it was promising to see most employers rate the productivity of staff working from home on par with levels in the office,” said Associate Professor Beck.

“As we get more experienced with working from home, Australians are developing routines and learning to divorce work life from home life.”

The researchers say the early results show the work from home experience is variable and predominantly available to middle and high-income groups.

“One of the biggest benefits of working from home is not having to commute, effectively reducing the number of people travelling each week,” said Professor Hensher.

“This is a win-win for employees and transport authorities who are working hard to solve congestion problems and keep our public transport system safe.”

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