Tuesday 24th November 2020

Transport: Driving changes post-COVID-19 crisis

Published on May 21st, 2020

There’s a reason the word “unprecedented” is now plastered across our cultural landscape. No one has seen anything like this. The parking and mobility industries will need to be particularly dynamic as countries reopen and recover at different rates, says RingGo’s Peter O’Driscoll, but flexibility and change are factors these industries were already adjusting to.

Though there are many differing opinions on what exactly things will look like as cities begin to re-open, many are aligned on the fact that large-scale travel will resume, but mobility is moving towards a shared model.

Tony Ralph, the London Borough of Islington’s service director of the Public Realm, is seeing this not just within his borough, but across the diverse range of surrounding councils. “The real scale of the impacts of this crisis are most likely not fully understood.” He is certain, however, that the public and private sectors will be adapting quickly to implement a wide range of safety measures.

The crisis highlights a sector in flux

Before COVID-19, the mobility sector had already been upended by advances in sharing technologies and new approaches sparked by environmental concerns. Now, mobility as a whole is getting reassessed. Cycling is getting promoted and things that had been languishing in the docket, like electric scooter legislation, are now being pushed to the forefront.

The return to normality will also bring large questions about congestion and public transport. A Chinese study found that traffic jams increased by about 20% in 17 cities after lockdown because people didn’t want to be on public transport, which is also likely to happen elsewhere.

A drive for more contactless options

There will be a profound shift towards contactless payments as governments and businesses alike look for every way to reduce the virus’ spread. Ralph points out “that local authorities are now considering virtual parking enforcement, with no need to put a ticket on the car.”

Some local authorities have been reluctant to explore this before the crisis. Now, councils across the UK are removing parking machines to reduce the likelihood of illnesses being passed on.

Of course, the road to contactless parking has some bumps. Some elderly people are uncomfortable with contactless payments or unable to physically manipulate the technology. Some councils may also need to address the limited distribution of smartphones or the internet itself.

Parking’s local impact

Local authorities are facing huge holes in their budgets, as they have either stopped charging for parking especially for healthcare workers or seen demand for parking disappear.

“From a parking perspective,” remarks Ralph about Islington, “we have seen the overall revenue of the service decrease from reduced travel and downsized parking enforcement. We have adopted a measured approach and focused on enforcement to support the supply chain and enable safe and reliable passage around the borough for key workers.”

It will take many tools to bridge this gap, but one of them is certainly contactless payment.

Lewis Wray, director of WSP in the UK, suggests a creative solution to the gap in retail parking demand. Local authorities can make money by monetising kerb space. Many places are seeing less car travel into central zones. Deliveries, however, still need to happen. That empty kerb space could not only be used for those deliveries, but it can also be monetised in a way that makes things easier for businesses by using reservations via an online platform.

Environmental concerns

This moment may prove to be a tipping point in sustainability. Wray believes that while the tension between the economy and environment still exists, the drive for a cleaner environment will continue after the crisis.

A major push that councils can make to impact the environment is to adopt Emissions Based Parking (EBP) schemes which encourage car buyers to purchase electric vehicles. Since its adoption in London’s Westminster two years ago, EBP has led to a 38% reduction in nitrogen dioxide in the air while there has been a reduction of 16% in the most polluting diesel vehicles in the area. 

The future of mobility

There are many solutions under discussion for the diverse challenges and factors in every city, but they rest on two things: data and flexibility. Businesses and governments can’t afford to get stuck in a single way of doing things or a rigid viewpoint, data should drive flexibility.

Peter O’Driscoll.

The numbers of digital payments in the mobility sector will dramatically rise. This will serve us in two ways. Removing the cash parking machines eliminates a vector for infection. Secondly, the data these payments create will map crowds and help track future infections. A touch-free and digital society will be the long-lasting effect of this crisis.

There are no simple answers. As Wray notes, “There’s never been an event that’s had such an impact on people.” It is certainly clear, however, that the mobility sector is an incredible opportunity to be a force for positive change.

The author is RingGo’s managing director, Peter O’Driscoll.

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