We are in the heart of Summer, some of us already on holidays while some others planning them, and the Covid-19 pandemic is still among us. At global level there are worrying infection rates in the U.S., Brazil and South America, India to mention the most (tragically) popular. In Europe there are swinging peaks in some countries, recently in Spain that has made the UK to re-introduce 14-day quarantine for travellers arriving from that country, in Romania and Bulgaria that made Italy to decide that travellers from these countries should be quarantined for 14 days. This situation has already seriously affected the holiday industry (air travels and hospitality) as on the one hand air companies don’t fully guarantee that their scheduled flights will really take place and on the other hand holiday-makers are not sure about travelling abroad due to the scattered Covid-19 situation.
Wearing face masks, using hand sanitisers before entering shops and supermarkets, taking temperature in public spaces, disinfecting planes, buses, trams and metros are measures that don’t fully convince people to feel safe when sharing public spaces and for this reason they changed their way of travelling. At urban level, there was a steep increase in using bicycles (owned or shared), e-scooters (mainly shared), walking (where distance allows it) and…the use of cars, owned ones mainly.
There was an ad published by the UK government a few weeks ago on social media that literally said: “Don’t use public transport”, which in my opinion was too strong a message that could generate the risk of cancelling decades of efforts in promoting the use of public transport to reduce congestion, pollution, etc.. In Turin (Italy) the local PT company suggest that passengers should look through windows when travelling to reduce the chance of facing one another (although wearing face masks remain mandatory). Each PT company uses different campaigns to ensure a “safe” travelling, however in the current time people feel more comfortable using their own car. It may be understandable after all we have lived and read in the recent months.
But, what will it happen in September when citizens have returned to their cities, schools will re-open, some offices will re-open (it is not possible to spend an entire life working 100% remotely)? Will we see again long queues of cars entering cities, congested roads inside and outside urban environments? Will public transport companies survive with fewer revenues and higher expenses also due to daily sanitisation of vehicles? And what about the concept of Mobility as Service (MaaS)? Will it still be useful?
The MaaS acronym has become a buzzword of the last years and everybody wanted to mention it in some ways even though there were (and are) several definitions of it. It seemed to be solving all problems of normal travellers that, thanks to an (one, hopefully) app, they could organise their “A to B” multi-modal trip, without owing any vehicle, and pay for the entire journey with a click on their smartphone without bothering of how much to pay to each transport operator. This was said to stimulate the use of public transport (the more traditional one and the shared one) and reduce private car usage.
But now, if people don’t use public transport much, there is no reason for spending a lot of resources on designing MaaS systems, integrated payment schemes, payment apps, multi-modal timetables, etc.. Is it possible that a few months could throw many years of effort away?
This is a very hot topic whose solution is not clear yet.
EPN Consulting Founder & CEO