Ministers are being urged to subsidise discounted public transport fares to avoid a “car-led recovery” from the coronavirus pandemic.
Pressure group Campaign for Better Transport (CBT) claimed boosting passenger numbers on buses, trains, coaches and trams is “crucial” to escape increased congestion and air pollution as restrictions are eased.
Latest Department for Transport figures show that weekday car use in Britain has already returned to around 88% of pre-pandemic levels.
This is far higher than demand for buses outside London and mainline rail services, which is lagging behind at 61% and 37% respectively.
CBT chief executive Paul Tuohy said fears about being infected by coronavirus while using public transport have made people “less confident” about using services.
But he insisted “we all need to start getting back on board”.
He went on: “We’ve launched this campaign to urge the Government to reassure people that public transport is safe again and to introduce a national scheme of discounted fares to encourage people to use it.
“By getting back on board we can all help to reduce congestion, protect the environment and boost the economy in a way that is fair and sustainable.”
Industry body the Rail Delivery Group gave its backing to The Way Forward campaign.
Director of nations and regions Robert Nisbet said: “The railway is a crucial part of Britain’s economic recovery and train companies have worked hard to ensure passengers can travel with confidence as they return to the network.
“With Government backing public transport as a priority, we can make sure we avoid a car-led recovery and instead better utilise cleaner, greener means of transport to connect the country.”
A spokesman for the Confederation of Passenger Transport, which represents the bus and coach industry, said: “Buses have played a vital role during the pandemic in helping to keep people moving safely, and will be equally important in the country’s recovery from the pandemic.”
A Department for Transport spokesperson said: “This Government has provided an unprecedented level of support for public transport throughout the pandemic.
“This includes roughly £12 billion to ensure our rail network keeps running, over £1 billion for local bus services and nearly £200 million for light rail systems across the country.
“When travelling on public transport passengers should wear a face covering unless exempt, sanitise their hands regularly, maintain social distance and open windows where possible.
“We’re working with industry to ensure passengers know what steps they need to take to travel safely and confidently in the coming months.”