A widely available vaccine is frequently touted by public officials and business leaders as what is required to return life and travel to “normal” in the United States. Case in point: In September, Scott Kirby, CEO of United Airlines, expressed doubt that air travel would return to prepandemic levels until a vaccine was widely available.
But what if the much-touted and frequently politicized vaccine isn’t enough? In that case, what is it that air travelers, transit riders, and taxi/ride-hailing users want in order to feel safe traveling again? Our latest survey results offer clues.
A vaccine is good, but a vaccine in addition to safety and sanitization measures is even better
RSG’s COVID-19 Transportation Insights Panel has surveyed over 9,000 respondents in the United States since May. We recently performed analysis on data from our third survey wave in late August and are completing a fourth survey wave this month.
Our second and third survey waves asked respondents whether they would travel via transit, taxi/ride-hailing, or plane in a scenario where cases of COVID-19 have been decreasing for 12 weeks and a well-tested vaccine is widely available throughout the United States. Then, for each mode, we asked respondents to rate their frequency of traveling in that scenario in two situations.
In the first situation, no additional safety measures were employed by the transit agency, ride-hail operator, or airline/airport. In the second situation, additional safety measures were employed, including required face masks and increased sanitization and cleaning of facilities and vehicles.
Across all three modes and both survey waves, respondents indicated they were more likely to travel via each mode if a vaccine were available and additional measures were in place. For instance, only 51% of August survey respondents who used transit at least weekly before the COVID-19 pandemic said they would ride transit at least weekly in the future with an available vaccine but no safety measures such as required face masks. That percentage rises to 84% when an available vaccine is paired with additional safety measures.
While the most pronounced effect was seen within expected transit travel, a similar result was observed across ride-hail and air travel.
What these findings mean for travel and future survey waves
Our findings indicate that a sizable percentage of the population is reluctant to return to transit, taxi/ride-hailing, or air travel with an available vaccine alone. Instead, respondents across all three modes prefer scenarios where agencies and operators continue to implement additional safety measures such as required masks and increased cleaning.
So, what does this mean for travel in the near term? For starters, expect public mask requirements to stick around for a while. Even with an available vaccine, travelers may come to expect/demand these measures when traveling.
The latest survey wave asks respondents to answer a similar scenario question but specifies that a vaccine is widely available and widely used. As in previous survey waves, we then ask respondents to rate the frequency with which they would take transit, use taxis/ride-hailing services, or fly.
Our latest findings will begin to reveal what travel looks like on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic if cases decline and a large percentage of the US population has been vaccinated.
Want to learn more? Visit our COVID-19 Transportation Insights Panel page. You can also contact us to receive a customized survey demonstration to learn how our findings can help your agency adapt to the present and plan for the future.