The future of transportation post-COVID-19
By Jason Grandin, Regional Data Analytics and Consulting Lead at Arcadis
Thursday, 01 October, 2020
Transport isn’t a sector that tends to stand still, but during the COVID-19 outbreak it has been undergoing change at a more rapid pace than ever before. So is this change temporary, or does it hint at a deeper, more long-term shift?
Due to the requirements of social distancing and its person-dense nature, there’s a clear hesitation for people to use public transport. People are instead looking at other modes of transport. Active transit is seeing a massive rise — even to the casual observer, bike stores and cycleways have never been busier. It’s interesting seeing that shift, and I’m intrigued to see whether it’s a long-term one or not.
But beyond people taking the opportunity to be active, we’re also seeing a shift in the way we work. Organisations have been forced to adopt remote working practices, and many have been able to do that very effectively.
It begs the question: what does the workplace of the future look like? Why would any CFO or company be looking to spend big on office space when they can have people working just as effectively from their homes? We’re going to see less centralised workplaces, which means there simply aren’t going to be as many people utilising public transport infrastructure post-COVID-19.
Changing the ‘modal hierarchy’
In my opinion, COVID-19 has simply brought forward the inevitable.
A lot of cities see the benefit in active transit. They have each defined their modal hierarchy, which essentially ranks transport options from most desirable to least desirable. Most cities want people walking as much as possible. If they can’t walk, a city would prefer them to cycle. Where cycling is impossible, take the train. Train to bus, bus to taxi, taxi to car. This hierarchy makes the roads less busy, the air cleaner and the citizens healthier.
To push this hierarchy, cities must build necessary infrastructure such as cycle paths. The crisis is accelerating a change in behaviours, which in turn is accelerating the infrastructure development timeline. But it’s not all down to COVID-19: I also think people are more health-conscious now than they have been, which is playing its part.
The critical role of data
With our world changing at such a rapid pace, staying abreast of new trends and the direction we’re headed in is crucial to delivering transportation solutions that are fit for purpose.
This is where data comes into play.
We now have more data available than ever before, which gives cities an opportunity to accelerate their strategies by collecting the right information, managing it effectively and drawing smart insights to make data-backed decisions. Data is any decision-maker’s most valuable asset, and it must be managed as such.
Through Bluetooth and IoT, for example, we’re now able to collect an incredible amount of transport data. If we know how people move, we can work out where infrastructure should be built to instigate behavioural change, and eventually optimise people’s journeys.
To better understand how data and technology are shaping transport, let’s take a look at a real-world example:
Trading cars for bikes in LA
Los Angeles is an incredibly car-centric city. No walking, no riding; the only way people travel is by car, making it so congested it’s not funny. LA has ambitions to become more cycling-centric, which begins by simply giving people the option to ride.
We’re looking at where all the cycling infrastructure is, collecting data on where current cycleways are, where more could potentially be and the sort of people that typically ride bikes. The last point is the most interesting: What demographics and socio-economic class denote an LA cyclist? Where do these people live and where do they need to get to? Who exactly are we building this infrastructure for?
We then overlay the human data on the infrastructure data and fill in the gaps. If there’s a whole bunch of students in this suburb with no way to ride to their university in that suburb, the theory is that if we build the infrastructure — cycleways or whatever it may be — people will ride because they can.
I feel our work is going to have a big and positive impact on LA, and it’s exciting to be able to offer a solution to such a big problem.
How Arcadis is shaping the future of transport
Designing and engineering major infrastructure projects is Arcadis’s bread and butter. We’ve made major investments in data analytics and have developed deep digital transformation expertise. This is all to say that Arcadis looks at things differently and is able to deliver modern infrastructure projects and services that drive better strategic outcomes for those who own and operate the transport.
How do you see your city’s transport developing into the future? Do you feel as though active transport will eventually overtake public? Do you imagine a time where you won’t need a car?
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