Column: Moving not Zooming into the future

The latest column from Alex Hornby, Chief executive of Transdev.

Friday, 18th September 2020, 8:00 am
It is up to us as public transport operators to make what we do as safe, comfortable and effective as possible

The pandemic has taught us lots about our company, our town and our people that we never knew before.

It has reminded us of our need to come together and for us to be responsive, dynamic and to predict trends, all in a much more intensive way than ever before.

In that vein, the past six months have been challenging and they have also been rewarding in equal measure.

Walking through Harrogate during the weekends and also in the early evenings, it has felt really uplifting to see people safely enjoying our town and for them to be showing their resilience to carry on enjoying their lives and supporting our many great local businesses.

While there was a worry that the Government’s Eat Out To Help Out scheme would merely bring a spike of demand to our local restaurants that may risk tailing away, it was heartening to ever-so-slightly struggle to find a table in Harrogate on a Tuesday evening well into September and also for us to be hearing that one of our favourite places for a pint – Cold Bath Brewery on Kings Road – reckons it had a busier weekend during the August bank holiday than a year previous.

Such is our district’s strength as a visitor destination – and also perhaps a place that makes people just ‘feel good’ at a time that we need it, too.

Predicting how this all progresses, so that we can understand what we face in the future, is our next conundrum.

As a transport provider, we were initially really concerned – just like others in the town – that people would become more comfortable with staying in their homes and buying goods online, while using Zoom and also working from home.

However, in Harrogate and also in other similarly sized towns across the North, we have seen a move back to buses for shopping and also for working, far greater than other transport operators are seeing in the cities.

This again proves the important role of towns like Harrogate and it also shows our resilience: we ought to stand proud and, while we should always look to our neighbouring cities for our strength and for our support, we have every right to believe in our own identity, our drawing power and our independence.

Local connectivity inside towns and also to neighbouring ones has been highly important during the pandemic to keep our key workers moving, and as we all recover now, too.

It is notable for us to see the faster recovery of local buses compared to national coaching and rail.

The current sense of buzz around the town, I believe, also shows that we do not actually all want to rely on the internet or for us to run our lives via a screen.

It is human nature to socialise and, in the town of Harrogate, I think it is our instinct to enjoy our surroundings and for us to enjoy being with – and working with – people.

It has taught us that, in spite of what some analysts and also what some academics have predicted about our future behaviour, that people want to move and, in the future, it is up to us public transport operators to make what we do as safe and as comfortable and as effective and as attractive as we possibly can.

I know for sure that I am certainly not welcoming the thought of staying indoors.

Nor am I welcoming the thought of sitting in a car in traffic on Skipton Road, every day.