Restoring trust in transport: intelligent mobility

28 July 2020
Image of a cityscape.
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Covid-19 has undoubtedly raised important questions regarding the future of global transport networks, with our commuting patterns, travel behaviour and reliance on global supply chains all facing uncertainty.

As an alumnus of Aston University, I recently hosted a webinar for staff and students across both the University and its European partner institutions on the impacts and opportunities of Covid -19 on transport. As I spoke of emerging markets that may accelerate and redevelop how we live our lives, the main thought running through my mind was that we are experiencing significant change, whether we like it or not.

From airlines to train operators, bus companies to taxi firms, all areas of the transport industry have seen passenger numbers and revenues plummet.

As the lockdown starts to tentatively ease, many organisations are holding off from an urgent shift to re-opening offices and stores and instead are pausing to rethink how they want to evolve their future operating models.

Short-term challenges

Operating passenger services and maintaining social distancing presents huge challenges for the transport sector. It comes with no surprise that passenger numbers on all forms of transport have dramatically declined over the past few months.

Notwithstanding the adverse effect to economic activity, we’ve inadvertently developed a lack of trust in public transport services. In the short term, this was rightly to mitigate the large risks associated with Covid -19 but as we move forward this will negatively impact our need as an industry to tackle global climate change.

For our Intelligent Mobility team, we’ve observed an interesting evolution of the mobility market and our clients desire to take stock and rethink not only their procurement activities but also how they operate as a business.

Green recovery

A study by the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) found that 61% of UK Adults support increasing remote working options and 32% believe that this transition will likely be to a permanent remote working arrangement. Adversely 44% are likely to avoid travelling on public transport networks and this is extremely concerning.

We most certainly have an opportunity as an industry to hit the reset button and rebuild how we operate, in line with the requirements to achieve net zero. But first, we must unpick the unfavourable public fear of travelling on public transport networks and ensure that we reshape our industry to support economic prosperity and propel the climate change agenda.

The European Union has already committed €1.85 trillion in funding to support the economic recovery of Covid-19. At the heart of its strategy is investment in sustainable industries and low emissions initiatives.

We can and must invest in sustainable transport alternatives, but we must do this in a data driven and customer led way which supports economic prosperity.

Some cities and regions have responded by introducing pop-up infrastructure to make it safer and easier to walk, run or cycle. Many governments across the world are investing in walking and cycling routes, whilst in Europe in particular we’re seeing the emergence of re designing public spaces.

In most cases this is reactive to additional available public space whilst we have been travelling less. It’s the next step that’s critical. Using data to understand how travel behaviour has changed during the pandemic and forecasting how this behaviour will evolve over time will provide a robust platform to support immediate and future infrastructure investment decisions.

Globally, it’s estimated that 36% of people are expected to walk, run or cycle more as a means of travel, it’s clear that as well as new technologies as enablers, human behaviour will have a critical role to play.

Human behaviour shaping transport policy

Today, more than ever we need to understand human behaviour in relation to our own transport decisions and more broadly how we operate our own daily lives. This must be dynamic, not static, and we need to enable a deeper understanding of how behaviour evolves and reacts within situations, from global pandemics to the climate change emergency.

Since the deceleration of the global pandemic caused by Covid-19, we’ve seen all forms of transportation dramatically reduce operational service. We’ve experienced a global improvement in air quality. We’ve all, at some point, reflected on our own rationale for travel or how we live our lives whether that be remote working or just travelling to the supermarket less.

Having deeper insights into our customers decision making through the lens of mobility will open enormous opportunity for the transport industry to be able to adjust, develop and/or innovate new types of services.

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