Reactions of the public transport sector to the COVID-19 pandemic. Insights from Belgium

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5 Citations (Scopus)


Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, public transport has been one of the hardest hit transport modes, losing ridership due to fear of contagion. This can partially be explained by the lack of preparedness in the sector to a pandemic scenario, as only few cities had epidemic contingency plans for the transport sector. To anticipate disruptions caused by future crises, we look at the preparedness and the response to COVID-19 by the public transport sector in Belgium. We interview all public transport operators in Belgium and analyze the interviews through the disaster management framework. We also aim to distill the lessons that can be learned from the pandemic to increase resilience in future public transport planning. We find that no operator in Belgium had contingency plans ready for a pandemic scenario, but that other plans were deployed to adapt their offer to COVID-19 conditions. Although all operators lost a significant part of ridership, their offer was maintained throughout the crisis, albeit at a decreased level for some operators. The availability of reliable and real-time data is identified as an important learning by the operators, as well as the ability to identify a core response team in case of a crisis. COVID-19 was seen by the operators as a learning platform to face future crises and highlighted the need to increase reactivity through better preparedness and data availability. We recommend the structural use of foresight methods through for example scenario planning to increase the preparedness of operators in the case of future disruptions.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)244–253
Number of pages10
JournalTravel Behaviour and Society
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2023

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors wish to thank all interviewees from STIB-MIVB, TEC, De Lijn, and NMBS-SNCB for their participation in this research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2023 Hong Kong Society for Transportation Studies

Copyright 2023 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


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