The pandemic could leave us with congestion chaos – here’s how to avoid it - The Conversation


When the pandemic hit in early 2020, a rapid decrease in urban private car use was seen globally. Satellite navigation company TomTom reported that 387 cities across the world experienced a decrease in congestion.


Similarly, a decrease in public transport usage was seen as governments across the world imposed lockdown restrictions. Many millions of people began to work remotely and the decades of technological advances in communications played a vital role in enabling our societies to continue to operate.


However, as restrictions on movements relax in some countries and a return to pre-pandemic mobility patterns starts, many cities are reporting increased congestion levels.


It seems we are at a tipping point and could revert to unsustainable and high carbon modes without clever interventions from national governments. Where people are reluctant to return to the use of public transport, research is showing that a greater focus needs to be placed upon active travel (non-motorised transport such as walking and cycling) and use of electric bikes and scooters.


Prior to the pandemic, cities such as Vancouver and Copenhagen and governments across the world were already trying to encourage people to use low-carbon methods of transport. The aim of these policies was, and continues to be, to reduce congestion, improve air quality, and ultimately to reduce our carbon emissions.


But there’s a possibility that a lasting impact of the pandemic may be a setback in attitudes towards public transport and therefore an increase in private car usage. Research conducted on the New York transport system has shown that public transport may only get back to 73% of pre-pandemic levels of passengers – and there could be a knock-on effect of increased private car usage.


It seems most of this decrease in public transport use is as a result of a fear of exposure to the virus. Research conducted in Dublin demonstrated that the majority of respondents in a back-to-work survey indicated a fear of using public transport for this very reason.


But the results also showed that public transport could be substituted with active travel. A similar Spanish study examined how mobility patterns were changed by the pandemic and, like the Irish study, showed that public transport was the mode seeing the biggest decrease in use.


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