Improving Urban Transport and Mobility in a Post-Pandemic City
The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the mobility sector. Let us examine some scenarios and game changers that can help urban planners prioritize the needs of residents and enable them to move through the city efficiently and safely.
Autonomous driving, connected cars, electrified vehicles, and shared mobility, known as ACES, were the four main disruptions that combined to shape personal mobility prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. In the wake of COVID-19, governments around the world had to put severe restrictions on mobility as well as the lifestyle choices of their populations to decrease the risk of infection, leading to a significant disruption of the mobility sector and raising questions about what will be mobility’s “next normal.”
A recent global survey from Mckinsey showed a shift in consumer behavior as a result of the pandemic, with consumers prioritizing safety and hygiene and citing the reduction of infection risk as their top reason for choosing a mode of transportation, surpassing in importance time to destination. With public-transit ridership decreasing between 70% and 90% in major cities across the world and consumers preferring the use of private cars, public transit seems to be losing ground.
Some would say that COVID-19 represents a “golden opportunity” or a chance for “rethinking the public realm.” With COVID-19 forcing bureaucracies around the world to act quickly to find innovative solutions and repurpose public spaces to cope with the effects of the pandemic, this can be seen as an opportunity to build better cities with the help of experts from various fields. Rethinking the public realm with digital innovation can help urban planners prioritize the needs of residents and enable them to move through the city efficiently and safely.
Post-Covid-19 Mobility Scenarios
Deloitte and Salesforce have proposed four possible post-COVID-19 mobility scenarios (within 3-5 years), with implications across various areas including public-transit, ridesharing, and local governments, based on two factors: the severity and duration of the pandemic and the level of collaboration of governments in their response. The first scenario, “passing storm,” is based on high coordination between global players and a faster than expected virus eradication, while the second scenario, “good company,” is based on the pandemic persisting longer than expected and the creation of public-private partnerships to find a solution. The third scenario, “sunrise in the east,” is built on the assumption that China and East Asian countries outstep Western nations in dealing with the pandemic, thus leading to a power shift. In contrast, the fourth scenario, “lone wolves,” is built on the assumption of COVID-19 becoming a prolonged crisis and leading to the rise of isolationism.
Scenario 1: Passing Storm
In the “passing storm” scenario, disruption would be minimal compared to the other scenarios, as governments around the world feel justified in their approach to the crisis, resulting in uneven adoption of new mobility models. In cities where leaders embrace a sustainability-focused approach, infrastructure would be repurposed to encourage walking and biking, which could also lead to growth in new areas for ridesharing using bikes and e-scooters. Overall improvements to the public transport system would be made to accommodate consumer preference for safety and hygiene with emphasis on sanitizing vehicles and other elements that could enhance safety, such as passenger partitions.
Scenario 2: The Good Company
In the “good company” scenario, the private sector plays a proactive role in filling the service gaps in weakened cities emerging from the pandemic. In this scenario, regulatory oversight becomes minimal with private companies shaping the mobility sector and private mobility services replacing public-transport solutions and providing less overall coverage, to the disadvantage of underserved communities. Ridesharing would be dominated by fewer players with more clout, pushing cities to provide the necessary infrastructure for micro-mobility solutions.
Scenario 3: Sunrise in the East
In the “sunrise in the east” scenario, the East Asian model becomes the “gold standard” with its centralized approach to managing mobility and East Asian governments partnering with private sector companies across the world to export their mobility solutions. In this scenario, the world would see a rise in ridesharing and micro-mobility solutions provided by large Asian companies. With diminished public funding for public-transit in Western countries, consumers may opt for long-term leasing or rent-to-own schemes promoting growth in the small vehicles market.
Scenario 4: Lone Wolves
In the “lone wolves” scenario, with the prolongation of the crisis, governments are expected to play a more prominent role in providing and managing mobility solutions, with many solutions becoming “quasi-public” and forced data-sharing and surveillance to gain insights into mobility behavior. In this scenario, all forms of shared mobility face dwindling revenues, with companies trying to survive by fitting vehicles with partitions and self-cleaning surfaces as well as developing contact-less systems.
Game-Changers for Improving Urban Transport and Mobility
In a study by the management consultancy firm Arthur D. Little, in collaboration with the International Association of Public Transport (UITP), three strategies or “game-changers” were proposed for governments and city authorities to seize the opportunity and to accelerate movement towards more “sustainable, resilient and human-centric urban mobility systems.”
Game-Changer 1: Think and Act at a System Level
The first game-changer involves developing a long-term mobility vision in partnership with public stakeholders from all relevant urban planning fields as well as private mobility service providers to ensure the development of a unified vision. It also involves developing regulations for all the mobility modes in a unified way and backing it with system-level execution planning, including multimodal master planning. It also requires a review of the mobility-funding equation, possibly providing subsidies for private mobility solution providers with tenuous business models who operate low-profit trips to underserved areas.
Game-Changer 2: Promote Innovation through Public-Private Partnership
The second game-changer involves collaborating with private sector players in developing innovative technology in areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning-enabled data analytics, digital twinning, and new electrification technologies. It also involves collaboration in developing innovative business models such as urban logistics schemes and intermodal mobility hubs innovation schemes, competitions, and projects. Singapore offers a good example of promoting innovation with its open innovation initiative, “the Singapore Mobility Challenge,” in the context of its Land Transport Master Plan 2040 goals.
Game-Changer 3: Set Up a Unified Mobility Management Model
This game-changer involves setting-up a Unified Mobility Management Model to enable real-time optimization of mobility flows and assets at a city or national level based on a long-term mobility vision developed in collaboration with public and private stakeholders. This model also involves the creation of a “mobility data lake” where all mobility providers’ data is aggregated and shared with third parties in accordance with standards and protocols for data collection and bidirectional data exchange.