Queensland commuters stay away from trains despite low coronavirus case numbers

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New statistics show people in South-East Queensland are still avoiding public transport, despite the state recording low coronavirus cases in recent weeks.

Numbers released by Transport Minister Mark Bailey show train lines were up to 90 per cent empty in August, even at peak daily travel times.

The busiest service, the Springfield line, still had 38 per cent of its seats empty during peak travel hours.

The estimated spare seated capacity during peak and off-peak times was:

Line Empty seats: peak Empty seats: off-peak
Airport 90 per cent 94 per cent
Beenleigh 64 per cent 89 per cent
Cleveland 55 per cent 85 per cent
Doomben 83 per cent 95 per cent
Ferny Grove 44 per cent 87 per cent
Gold Coast 60 per cent 83 per cent
Ipswich/Rosewood 56 per cent 85 per cent
Redcliffe Peninsula 53 per cent 81 per cent
Shorncliffe/Northgate 65 per cent 89 per cent
Springfield 38 per cent 77 per cent
Sunshine Coast/Caboolture 70 per cent 80 per cent

‘People think it’s responsible for them not to use public transport’

Mr Bailey said 105 extra train services were added to support essential workers and promote social distancing on trains, contributing to the spare capacity.

However, University of Queensland psychology professor Alex Haslam, who studies human behaviour in a social context, said many people were avoiding public transport out of a sense of social responsibility.

“People think it’s responsible for them not to use public transport,” Professor Haslam said.

“They don’t want to be responsible for transmitting [coronavirus] and they don’t want to be creating risk for other members of their family if they were to contract the virus on the way to work.

“People recognise it’s generally safe, but they have a sense that, ‘If I don’t need to do it, I won’t.'”

Professor Haslam said people had got out of the habit of the daily commute as many of them started working from home.

“In the pandemic a lot of those habits were broken, and people have formed alternative habits.”

He said people had turned to other modes of transport, such as cycling or driving, and could retain those even in a post-pandemic world.

“There’s a constellation of factors that have made it a perfect storm for people’s reluctance to use public transport,” he said.

‘Community leadership’ needed to get people back on public transport

Professor Haslam warned the declining demand for public transport could mean the service takes a cut.

“The situation at the moment must be a bit of a nightmare, because it’s costing a fortune to run trains and with nobody on them, you’re not raising any revenue,” he said.

“Public transport is a critical part of Brisbane’s infrastructure and it would be tragic if we lost it through lack of use.”

He said it would take leadership from within the community to encourage people back onto trains.

“[Humans] are group-based animals, so our behaviour is very much structured by what is perceived to be appropriate for the groups that we’re members of.

“We look to members of our group to tell us what is the right thing to do in this situation.”

Professor Haslam said more information about the safety of public transport during the pandemic could reassure people into riding trains again.

By Jessica Rendall (Original ABC Article)