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3 Potentially Massive Changes in Mobility as a result of COVID-19

Updated: Jun 22, 2021

More than ever, cities around the entire world are taking preventative measures to ensure the safety of their residents as they adapt to the reality that the pandemic has left us with. As new challenges with minimizing social contact present themselves, the call to adapt, expand, and innovate will be waiting to be answered. Public transportation is taking a massive financial hit on top of the costs associated with adhering to new hygienic rules as cities quickly search for ways to make up the difference. According to TransitCenter, transit agencies could experience an annual loss of $26-$40 billion.

The same residues of reluctance that existed after 9/11 will also exist around the world as businesses slowly open back up. People harbored reservations long after the aftermath before they gradually began to come back around to a familiar routine again. According to the U.S. Bureau of Transportation Statistics, it took nearly 3 years for the airline industry to fully bounce back from the hysteria that started on 9/11.

These same reservations will be evident in the way that people look at transportation, seeing private mobility as a more viable option than in the previous years.


Private Mobility may become more of a necessity than ever before

Mobility may be less of a luxury and more of a necessity as people look for safe alternatives to public transport. As summertime rolls around, bikes and e-scooters will play an integral role in reducing contact but also being environmentally friendly. The revenue from private mobility may prove to be vital for some cities as well, as they look for ways to replace the revenue generated from public transportation like buses and transition to bikes, scooters, or cars. In the United States, 36% of essential workers rely on public transportation to make it to work.

No matter how ready a city is to take on these diversified changes in mobility, the time has come to observe how these transitions can be managed in a way that the benefits are maximized and residents can still come out on top with a standard (or even improved) quality of life.


Public Transportation may be avoided altogether by many

It will most likely take some time before people return to feeling a sense of comfort as they attempt to revert back to their regular day-to-day. A significant amount of people may possibly continue to avoid public transportation altogether, which means they will either be using their own personal vehicles or using more shared mobility such as bikes, scooters, or rideshares. In New York, the epicenter of COVID-19 in the United States, New York Subway ridership is decreased by a whopping 92%, according to the Brooklyn Eagle.

The way that people get around has already begun on a path of dramatic transformation. As these transitions occur, cities across the world will need to seek out updated solutions to ensure that their residents have little to no disruption in moving around. As each city is unique, these transitions will roll out differently with different outcomes and those outcomes will be largely determined by population density, public investment, and municipal capabilities.

If personal vehicle usage changes, the issue of finding parking could be prevalent and those cities may have to further implement smart parking systems that will manage parking, generate a stream of revenue, and maintain social distancing in the areas that it can be helped. There is simply more room for parking bikes and scooters than there is for parking cars. On top of the environmentally friendly aspect, cities will need to accommodate for the people avoiding public transportation, and increasing bike and scooter parking as well as accessibility to these options may be a potential solution for many.


Innovative solutions may arrive sooner rather than later

Micro-mobility started off as something that was simply convenient to have but has slowly transformed into a necessity for some cities. As we embark on new unfamiliar territory ushered in by COVID-19, the need to adapt and innovate is no longer around the corner, it's knocking at our front door and we simply can't afford to wait any longer. The overall economic status of cities will depend on innovative solutions to keep things moving as the world around us slowly makes a return to form. As the world changes around us along with customer habits and expectations, the pressure to innovate can either be seen as a daunting task or a wonderful opportunity to better serve our neighbors and communities.

For example, SFMTA Executive Director Jeff Tumlin quickly adapted with what he calls “radical resiliency” by simplifying the San Francisco bus route from 89 routes to 17 routes to meet the agency’s criteria for essential services. Those remaining routes exist to continue to assist a majority of essential workers who rely on public transportation the most (full interview with TransitCenter here).

Advancements in mobility around the world have already been affecting the way people commute, although the degree of these advancements differ from city to city. The cities that adapt the best will have the best chance of helping shape the exciting future of mobility and improving the lives of their residents in more ways than one.

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