Transport Post Covid-19
The English National Opera has announced plans to hold drive-in performances at Alexandra Palace in north London in a bold move to enable access to entertainment whilst maintaining social distancing. Could this be symptomatic of the next wave of change in travel behaviour post-lockdown?
Will car-friendly amenities make a comeback, such as drive-in cinemas and the drive-in restaurants of the 1950's, with wait staff on roller skates? What’s next? Drive-through supermarkets or maybe even drive-in sports stadia?
One thing is certain: life is bound to be very different as a result of the Coronavirus pandemic, with most people introducing changes to their lives. However, whether these changes are large or small, and whether they will become permanent is another matter.
In this article, Markides staff have considered the potential long-term affect of the Covid-19 by mode.
It is inevitable that more people will choose to walk because they will want to avoid groups of people and they will also have become more health conscious. Even pre-lockdown walking trends in the UK were showing an upward trend (see Fig 1).
Figure 1 Average walking stages, trips and distances: 2002-2008
Source: DfT - Walking and Cycling Statistics, England: 2018
It therefore seems likely that, post-covid, this trend will continue to rise, if not be boosted and there will be a greater amount of walking undertaken for short trips (shopping, visiting friends etc).
Cycling has also been gaining ground in the UK; the average number of miles cycled per person has been increasing since 2002 (see Fig 2).
Figure 2 Average cycling stages, trips and distances: 2002-2008
Source: DfT - Walking and Cycling Statistics, England: 2018
Additionally, several Councils across the UK and TfL have taken advantage of the reduction in traffic and have already started preparing plans for the introduction of more cycle and pedestrian infrastructure. English councils have also been granted temporary powers to close roads. It is therefore inevitable that there will be many more cycle trips in the future.
Compared to active modes, bus use in England outside of London has been on a downward trend since the peak of 2.4 billion passenger journeys in 2008/2009 (see Fig 3 below).
Figure 3 Local bus passenger journeys (billion) in England outside London and London, 2004/05-2018/19
Source: DfT – Annual Bus Statistics: England 2018/19
Will the virus accelerate this downward trend? Certainly until a vaccine is developed, this will be inevitable because people will want to avoid getting close to others. In addition, TfL have furloughed 7,000 staff as the number of journeys on the capital’s network is down by 95%.
In order to encourage safer use, TfL passengers are now travelling free. They are boarding through the middle doors to avoid the driver’s cab which contains the payment card reader (some 26 TfL staff, mostly bus drivers, have died with suspected Covid-19).The economic impact on bus routes across the nation - many of which already cannot operate on a fully commercial basis - may be significant.
The big question is how long such arrangements will carry on for? Will travel revert to “normal practices and trends” once the Covid-19 outbreak has finally waned or will potential passengers avoid public transport to be "better safe than sorry"? In either case, TfL will need to recoup funds; will these funds be secured through raising fares (potentially flying in the face of the Mayor's policy) or from the state?
The above questions will be even more prescient in areas outside of London, particularly in rural communities. Are we about to see the demise of the bus - or will developers be expected to pay a bigger share towards the funding of such services? Certainly the government appears to have already played its hand by announcing the biggest roads programme for 50 years - and by committing huge funds to HS2. Where does all this leave the bus, which for many development sites is often the only practicable interim or long-term public transport solution?
Train operators have started to re-open some services; however, strict rules have been introduced about social distancing as well as monitoring seat reservations on long-distance routes and limiting numbers on commuter lines. The inevitable result is that there will be less people travelling by train. However, in the case of commuters will they be prepared to travel longer distances if they will only need to be in the office for 2-3 days/week? One thing is certain: overcrowding on trains is likely to reduce, at least in the short-term. Pre-Covid, about 20% of passengers on trains into Birmingham are forced to stand in the morning, rising to 23% for into London; with fewer office workers travelling at peak hours, this may drop to a more comfortable number.
More importantly, are we likely to see more commuters starting to use their cars or will they opt instead to work from home? If the latter, it will inevitably mean less cars on the roads but it may also trigger a significant change in house building. Will every house in future incorporate a study/office for home-working?
Car ownership in the UK has remained steady over the last 10 years. However, since 2014 there has been a slight decrease in households with one car and a corresponding increase in households with two or more cars (see Fig 4 below).
Figure 4 % households with access to a car: 2008-2018
Source: DfT Statistics – National Travel Survey 2019
This trend had started to be affected by the advent of Uber as well as younger people’s preference to avoid owning a car until later in life. A report by McKinsey had already predicted that up to one in ten cars sold in 2030 could be a shared vehicle. The impact of the Covid-19 pandemic may well serve to emphasis Mobility as a Service (MAAS), but will people be as willing to share vehicles? Potentially; but car share services will be pressed to demonstrate how their vehicles are kept clean and safe with even greater transparency.
Whatever the case, there are bound to be less cars on the road and a flattening of the peak hours - particularly as staggered office arrangements and flexi-working become more prevalent.
Air transport has been the worst effected of all modes. Almost all plane operators have suffered massively as a result of the slump in air travel and some have gone into liquidation. BA have announced plans to make around 12,000 staff redundant.
How will the air industry re-emerge?
Some airlines have mooted keeping the middle seats free on flights. Remaining true to form, Ryanair boss, Michael O’Leary, has said that this was an “idiotic idea for an industry that had spent years figuring out ways to squeeze more passengers onto aircraft”. Nevertheless, if this were to happen, there will inevitably be much higher fares and the outcome of that will probably be less travel for many people and budget airlines are likely to be the worst-hit. Together with greater environmental awareness amongst many people, the air industry is may revert to a fragmented world where only the more affluent amongst us can afford to travel by plane. Conversely, this may invigorate the competitive market for long-distance trains and night services, international ferries, and long-distance car sharing.
The industry is well aware of the increasing use of light van transit as the result in surging trends in online shopping; these have now boomed beyond retailers' capacity to deliver. Whilst it is unlikely that there will be any significant switch from road freight to rail or water, and it is unlikely that the overall global trends will shift, there may be small knock on effects from the lockdown period.
These include the fact that many people are being forced to shop locally in stores they would not normally enter or adopt brands they would not normally consider, as well as discover more of their local community. A proportion of people may therefore decide to shop more locally and undertake more retail trips by walking and cycling after restrictions are lifted.
The lockdown has also forced those who would not normally utilise delivery services to experiment with them and enforced more bulk buying. Where people may have made several trips per week to supermarkets for 'top-up' shops, they may change their behaviour to larger, less frequent purchases.
In the wider retail sphere, there is an increasing awareness about both health and the environment. This encourages more sustainable living such as refusing to buy foods that have travelled long distances and choosing to support smaller businesses over global chains.
All of these actions could lead to better efficiency in certain retail markets from producer to end user, encouraged from the bottom up.
It is undeniable that new technologies are emerging all the time, but how will the adoption of these technologies be affected by the pandemic?
Autonomous vehicles(AVs): isolation/privacy will be inherent in such vehicles and this will make them attractive to people, albeit there will be the same concerns relating to cleanliness as mentioned in regards to car sharing. It’s worth remembering that existing vehicles are unused for 97% of the time, whereas AVs can be in use as much as demand dictates. However, AVs will only be functional in big cities and in any case they are not expected to be operational on a big scale for years to come because of an array of other issues (safety, legislation etc). The pandemic itself is not therefore likely to affect the introduction of AVs, which will follow their own trajectory.
Drones: plans have recently been announced by an Italian architect for a cluster of tall buildings which could house up to 200,000 people. The mode of movement(by people and goods) in these structures? Drones!
At the same time, Amazon is continually developing and testing its drone technology so that at some point your next Amazon purchase will arrive by drone - rather than a van. How will this technology be affected by our recent experiences with the pandemic? Deliveries were the first to re-commence operations during the lockdown; there was therefore no apparent decrease and their possible replacement by drones will just mean less vehicles on the roads but more vehicles in the air! There's also the question of security, reliability, and privacy. A small drone is more vulnerable than a van on the road, and understandably, people may object to drones flying past their windows.
Electric scooters: just like with walking and cycling there will be more use of electric scooters but again there are several hurdles to overcome before these could come into general and widespread use. Once such hurdles are overcome, E-scooters could replace cars for many journeys particularly as they have been found to be as fast as cars or even faster for the last mile of a journey. This could be significant as two-thirds of all car trips in congested urban areas are less than three miles.
The extent to which Covid-19 will change how we live, work and travel in the long-term remains to be seen. Wide-scale adoption of homeworking models will reduce car use but there may be a simultaneous reduction in both bus and rail travel, undermining the mass transit modes that are at the core of sustainable travel policy. The first phenomenon could be cancelled out by the second so that, at the end of the day, there may be no noticible impact on the number of cars on the roads. At least in the mid-term, there will inevitably be a flattening of peak hour vehicular traffic as businesses adopt more flexible work structures and passengers seek to avoid peak hours. The traditional highway peak periods may then come under scrutiny for urban areas, increasing the necessity for site-specific surveys in order to assess existing (and therefore future) trip generation assessments.
Notwithstanding the above effect, we believe that increased awareness of health and environmental issues and the shift towards a more sustainable and equitable world are likely to have a far greater impact on transport (in the long term) than the pandemic.Back to News