In my previous editorials I mentioned a few business areas affected by the Covid-19 outbreak and now that EU countries follow different rules and schedules to re-open activities and services, the overall situation is pretty confusing. This regards opening borders to other EU member states (e.g. Italy intends to open them as of 3rd June while Austria is to open theirs in the next days to some neighbouring countries only and not Italy, etc.). Airlines will resume their passenger services in different periods ranging from May to July 2020 and towards some destinations only, which will make the organisation of a trip pretty complicated.
In this unclear situation, more chaos is added by the UK that – with a totally different approach and very late in comparison with other countries’ plans that have started easing restrictions – seemingly from the 8th June will introduce a compulsory 14-day quarantine to all travellers willing to enter the country and this measure seems to last for at least three weeks, end of June, and possibly extended. Certainly, this will not help business and tourism in the country and with Brexit looming the effect could be even worse for the country’s GDP.
One specific aspect of travelling is Urban Mobility. We all know about several prudential measures of wearing face masks in public spaces, sanitising/washing hands frequently and social distancing. Especially the last measure generates some concerns in citizens that are now more in favour of travelling by car or by bike instead of using public transport that is experiencing a very low demand following a nearly-zero demand during the lockdown periods.
For its part, public transport must ensure social distancing too, which means restricting the number of customers accessing metro/underground stations, waiting for buses at stops and boarding buses and trains. All this implies a reduced number of passengers per vehicle, thus an unpredictable and severely diminished revenues that transport companies have to face.
A few years ago there were discussions about the effect of awareness campaigns aimed to convince citizens to leave their private car at home and use public transport. Some analysts supported the theory according to which, if this happened, the public transport network would not be able to cope with such an increase of demand. Nowadays, as people are worried about Covid-19 infection, the situation is going to reverse as private cars have become popular and while at present this can be accepted it could not be in the future, otherwise all the awareness campaigns carried out in the last couple of decades would have been useless.
The choice of using bikes has become very popular and many European cities have rapidly designed new bike lanes and more will be made available in the next weeks, which is a very good move indeed.
Some analysts also say that an expansion and/or intensification of Uber services would be good in this period, however this would clash with the decisions of many municipalities that for several and different reasons banned Uber from performing their service within their territory.
As you may appreciate, the topic is wide, complicated and a generous amount of time is needed to solve this chicken-and-egg situation. In the meantime, remote working has become common, schools are closed, conferences and other big events are cancelled or postponed, so the good news is there is some time available for designing future urban transport strategies. From September 2020 on, if the pandemic situation will allow us to return to a sort of “new” normality, then “new” transport offer solutions should be consolidated and put in place.
EPN Consulting Founder & CEO