People didn't stop travelling when Skype was invented so they will come back to public transport, says Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps has insisted the Government will press ahead with its transport investment plans despite millions of people choosing to work from home rather than travel by bus or train during the lockdown.
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The Transport Secretary says he didn't think the coronavirus pandemic and the months of lockdown where passengers have been discouraged from using public transport would deter people "in the longer run".

And he said upgrades to transport infrastructure were often easier when fewer people are using the network, meaning now was "the time to invest".

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Earlier this month, a transport expert appointed by the Government to run the North's biggest rail operator said he feared passengers were not "psychologically ready" to return to train travel in large numbers after months of being told to avoid public transport.

Richard George said he was worried about the long-term finances of rail operators due to the lack of passengers travelling by train, amid fears it could be up to a decade before demand returns to pre-lockdown levels.

Passenger numbers plummeted from March onwards as the Government advised people to avoid public transport where possible and it has been mandatory since June for passengers to wear a face covering.

Social distancing restrictions mean trains could only carry a fraction of their normal numbers. And though the number of services increased in May and earlier this month, demand for trains is currently around 20 per cent of pre-pandemic levels on some services.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, pictured at Leeds station. Pic: PAGrant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, pictured at Leeds station. Pic: PA
Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, pictured at Leeds station. Pic: PA
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Mr Shapps, who this week announced £589m for upgrades to the Transpennine route connecting Leeds with York, Manchester and Harrogate, said investment in rail was just as much of a priority despite people's changing habits.

He told The Yorkshire Post: "My answer is definitely yes. I don't know about you but I have boundless enthusiasm and optimism about the future.

"I don't believe that Covid will stop us from progressing again, it's obviously been in the short term, a huge hit, but I don't think in the longer run it will stop people from travelling.

"I was thinking about this, it is a bit like in 2003 when (online communication service) Skype was invented. Everyone imagined people would stop travelling around because you can freely video conference and yet here we are all these years later, the number of people using trains, for example has gone up year on year on year.

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"And I think the same is true, people will get back to travelling. I'm not saying everyone will under every circumstance, I think there's some rather good things that could come from this including more remote working, more video conferencing, but in the end, all of that will lead to a more vibrant economy, and a bigger economy, and people will still need to travel.

"So to the contrary, I think this is the time to invest, this is the time to get it done. And actually some of it is a bit easier when there are fewer people on the network. So, for all of those reasons, we must power ahead with the powerhouse."