2020 resulted in many global changes due to the impact of the Covid19 crisis. The impact on transport was particularly severe. The need for social isolation and lockdowns has accelerated the earlier gradual trends to flexible working and, for many, working from home. Thus, we have been faced with a suppression of movement and a reconsideration of the role and needs for transport, and even the basic economic assumptions of many aspects of the transport industry such as air travel and tidal commuter flows into city centres.
A year ago we would have considered most of this a relatively quick aberration. Last year was a year to remember, then a year to be forgotten as we got back to "normal". However, these trends are continuing into 2021 and will be omnipresent in policy for some time to come.
One particular aspect of these changes is the rise of "no travel" as a modal choice. There are many ways to express this – remote working, electronic shopping, home schooling, online socials, home entertainment, working/shopping locally... All of these expressions, however, lead to an outcome of a reduction, or elimination, of the need to travel very much if at all from one's base at home.
A key issue for mobility policy makers is that travel should no longer be deemed a necessity to complete tasks. And, this is the case for an increasingly wide range of tasks as more and more businesses reinvent themselves in the digital age. Travel is becoming, for many, a selective luxury – for certain special errands, purely for enjoyment, for exercise and fresh air, for selective work purposes, for some personal services... Although the rise of "at home personal service" will clearly be a coming trend to match the increased working at home post pandemic. There is then the whole idea of what "holiday" now means and how this element of travel is assembled to delight and relax post pandemic.
What does this mean from transport planning and modelling? As an industry we need to consider how we include non-travel within the menu of modal choices. It should no longer be considered that the basic assumption is which mode of travel mode is required to complete daily basic functions - public or private / bus or rail/ cycling or walking. We now need to include the concept of "did you decide not to make the journey and complete the task electronically" in our considerations of the role of mobility in a society.
Modal choice in the UK for all trips in 2019 was 26% walking, 62% car – driver or passenger, and 9% for all public transport modes. How many of these journeys will now be eliminated and how do we specifically capture the supressed travel option in the mix? I would suggest that the transport industry needs to in some way more completely understand how and why people are travelling and not only focus on the resulting out of home modal choices that are being made.
This reconsideration of modal choice will impact transport network development regarding street design, pavements, cycle lanes, railway networks and capacity, parking but also the new transport network of broadband connectivity! These are increasingly all interconnected parts of one network.
The Paris Climate Agreement of 2016 lays out the needs for decarbonising sectors of human activity in the coming decades. Decarbonising the transport system should not be solely about moving petrol and diesel personal vehicles to batteries, or electrifying the railways and buses. The future is also about making personal transport choices that produce almost no carbon or movement at all.
Humans will remain social beings, but the Covid19 shock of 2020 has challenged our assumptions and experiences of socialisation, work and productivity. After a year, we will not be the same people we were in 2019 and subtly or significantly our behaviour will have changed. The future of transport now has a new modal option – "no travel at all"!
Giles K Bailey is a Director at Stratageeb Limited, a London based consultancy assisting businesses think about their strategic vision and innovation. Previously, he had spent 9 years as Head of Strategy at Transport for London. He has worked in the UK and Canada over the last 25 years in mobility, innovation, marketing, digital, transport planning and consulting.
Photo by Mary Markevich
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This blog was published as part of the Decarbonising Transport series with Greener Transport Solutions