Coronavirus: Six ways Covid-19 will change transport across the world

Report predicts huge surge in demand for bicycles and scooters with people making less trips to the office

Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, June 28, 2020. A man on his e-scooter goes down the Corniche as the sun sets on the Dhow Harbour. Victor Besa / The National Section: Standalone Reporter: none
Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, June 28, 2020. A man on his e-scooter goes down the Corniche as the sun sets on the Dhow Harbour. Victor Besa / The National Section: Standalone Reporter: none

The Covid-19 pandemic will transform transportation around the world, according to a new report.

There will be an increased use of bicycles and scooters as people seek to avoid congestion as well as a significant reduction in rush hour traffic.

People will likely work from home a lot more as well, the study from the International Association of Public Transport (UITP) said, which will mean smaller crowds on public transport.

The National takes a look at how the coronavirus crisis will permanently change how we commute.

How will the pandemic affect individual transport habits?

The UITP predicts there will be an increase in the use of cars and bicycles and more people will opt to walk to avoid crowded public transport amid physical distancing and hygiene concerns.

“Biking and walking are encouraged by many public authorities through the creation of new ‘green zones’, cycle lanes and pedestrian areas,” the report said.

It observed that the "shift to cars" was already a reality in China, with massive traffic jams reported across several cities.

In anticipation, cities worldwide have ramped up plans to change their traffic infrastructures.

In Milan, a transformational project known as Strade Aperte, which translates to open roads, is under way.

However, the pandemic forced officials to rethink their initial model, especially now that one million subway users have to find alternative means of transport due to social distancing.

The solution in Milan was to widen the roads for pedestrians and cyclists rather than construct new pavements.

The city aims to build 35 kilometres of cycle tracks by the end of the year. A speed limit of 30kph has also been introduced as well to increase safety.

Milan's municipality has also given staff returning to the office flexible starting hours of arrive between 8am and 11am to avoid the morning rush hour that would typically ensue before the pandemic struck.

epa08565399 Cars in a traffic on the German highway A10, a.k.a. Berliner Ring, near Berlin, Germany, 25 July 2020. EPA/HAYOUNG JEON
Cars in a traffic on the German highway near Berlin, Germany. Hayoun Jeon / EPA

What is the immediate effect on the demand for urban transport?

The report states that urban mobility demand was set to boom before Covid-19 but the pandemic has changed all that.

While demand is still expected to grow, the rate will be less than predicted prior to the coronavirus.

“Covid-19 will not reverse the growth trend – the populations of cities will continue to grow faster than the overall growth of the global population,” the report said.

“However, there is likely to be a deceleration in the rate of growth of passenger mobility demand in the coming years.”

Several factors drive this trend, including economic stress brought on by higher levels of unemployment caused by the coronavirus crisis.

A reduction in tourism and business travel will also play a role in defining the future of transport and the report warned less culture and leisure options would likely be made available.

Working from home

The likelihood of people continuing to work from home in some capacity will have a significant effect on global transport, said the study, which predicted remote working would become a permanent trend.

“The generally positive experience of levels of productivity achieved during lockdown, facilitated by digital technology, has greatly increased the willingness of employers to promote working from home and flexible hours,” read the report.

“This has also been driven by the wish to avoid staff travel during peak hours, with the attendant increased risk of infection in crowded transport modes.

“Similarly, staff have realised the advantages of home-working, such as more time with families and avoidance of the costly and time-consuming commute.”

The report concedes that working from home will not be possible for everyone and that has to be carefully balanced with ensuring people do not feel isolated – which can lead to mental health and morale concerns.

“A mix of working from home and at the office seems to be the most likely scenario for the longer-term future,” it said.

“For mobility planners, this means an overall reduction in demand and, importantly, a flattening of the critical morning and evening peaks.”

A cyclist in Dubai. Pawan Singh / The National
Cycling may become more prevalent post-coronavirus. Pawan Singh / The National

The healthy new face of transport

The global lockdown has made more people conscious of the need to focus on their health and well-being and will also influence the future of transport.

“The lockdown has further highlighted citizens’ increased appetite for healthier lifestyles, including increased interest in active mobility: walking, cycling and other mobility devices such as privately owned e-scooters,” the report said.

There has been a noticeable global increase in the sale of electric vehicles in the first quarter of the year, backing up the report’s claims.

There were 1.3 million electric bicycles sold in the UK from January to May, compared to just over 500,000 cars, of which 20 per cent were electric.

Those figures suggest sales of electric bikes have doubled, the report said.

“The increase in personal mobility adoption has been driven by perceived hygiene advantages, reduced safety concerns due to empty streets, and more time for reflection about personal health and physical condition,” it said.

How will the pandemic affect the number of trips we make?

The UITP predicts people will make fewer trips for work purposes and expects an increase in short, local journeys.

The report adds there will be a flattening and staggering of trips taken during peak hours.

“There is uncertainty about how much peak flattening will continue post-lockdown, with some cities seeing continued flattening and others seeing rapid reformation,” it said.

“Flattening of the peak has huge potential benefits for productivity in cities, including goods as well as people.”

The report claimed an increase in the use of cars and other personal modes of transport is expected in the short-term but may not continue beyond that.

How will the UAE be affected?

A recent report by the Dubai Future Foundation recommended the use of drones and robots to “minimise the number of human operators” to keep the costs of transportation and logistics down.

The same report also suggested the reduction in traffic levels on Dubai roads could lead to self-driving cars being introduced, due to less chance of causing disruption to traffic flow.

The DFF said the current situation presented an opportunity to promote the use of bicycles and e-scooters, due to people trying to avoid public transport and congestion.

Updated: July 29, 2020 10:25 AM


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