Traveller behaviour in public transport in the early stages of the COVID-19 pandemic in the Netherlands

Sanmay Shelat*, Oded Cats, Sander van Cranenburgh

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

19 Citations (Scopus)
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With a few exceptions, public transport ridership around the world has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. Travellers are now likely to adapt their behaviour with a focus on factors that contribute to the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Given the unprecedented spatial and temporal scale of this crisis, these changes in behaviour may even be sustained after the pandemic. To evaluate travellers’ behaviour in public transport networks during these times and assess how they will respond to future changes in the pandemic, we conduct a stated choice experiment with train travellers in the Netherlands at the end of the first infection wave. We specifically assess behaviour related to three criteria affecting the risk of COVID-19 transmission: (i) crowding, (ii) exposure duration, and (iii) prevalent infection rate. Observed choices are analysed using a latent class choice model which reveals two, nearly equally sized latent traveller segments: ‘COVID Conscious’ and ‘Infection Indifferent’. The former has a significantly higher valuation of crowding, accepting, on average 8.75 min extra waiting time (average total travel time in the choice scenarios was about 40 min) to reduce one person on-board. Moreover, this class indicates a strong desire to sit without anybody in the neighbouring seat and is quite sensitive to changes in the prevalent infection rate. By contrast, the Infection Indifferent class has a value of crowding (1.04 waiting time minutes/person) that is only slightly higher than pre-pandemic estimates and is relatively unaffected by infection rates. We find that older and female travellers are more likely to be COVD Conscious while those reporting to use the trains more frequently during the pandemic tend to be Infection Indifferent. Further analysis also reveals differences between the two segments in attitudes towards the pandemic and self-reported rule-following behaviour. We believe that the behavioural insights from this study will not only contribute to better demand forecasting for service planning but will also inform public transport policy decisions aimed at curbing the shift to private modes.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)357-371
Number of pages15
JournalTransportation Research Part A: Policy and Practice
Publication statusPublished - 2022


  • COVID-19
  • Crowding
  • Latent class choice model
  • Public transport
  • Stated choice experiment

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