“The fundamentals of travel are not going to change in the sense that people will begin to return to work, things will slowly return to normal. What will change is what this ‘normal’ looks like”, Robert Largan MP, member of the Transport Select Committee remarked in his opening statement for our recent webinar ‘Navigating the new normal for transport in a Covid-19 world’.
Alongside Robert Largan MP, our webinar heard from a panel of industry practitioners who contributed their unique perspectives on what the changing landscape for transport might look like, including:
A flavour of the most interesting points arising from the discussion is captured in brief below, but if you would like to watch the Webinar in full you can register for the link below, or to speak with us about any of the points raised, please do get in touch.
The crisis has brought into sharper focus a number of challenges that were already facing the UK’s transport system and thrown plenty more into the mix.
Covid-19 has hit the railway hard. Social distancing measures mean many parts of the public transport system will be limited to 15-20 per cent of normal capacity for some time, forcing the introduction of Emergency Measures Agreements (EMAs) in place of existing franchise arrangements. This sits against the backdrop of the Williams review with major reform already on the cards. The government may now have the option of simply evolving the EMAs into whatever arrangements follow Williams, possibly having to take on additional revenue risks. Williams has understandably been delayed but is still expected to land later this year and reforms to the railway will now need to factor in that travel patterns may have changed for good. For example, there will be debate over the extent to which government should now focus on punctuality rather than capacity given the reduced number of passengers.
There is a more positive story for cycling with Covid-19, reinforcing the importance of active travel. It has proven that active travel is both desirable and favourable, and when people feel safe – in the infrastructure, equipment and confidence – to cycle, they will do so. In fact, it is fair to say that cycling became the nation’s default transport mode in the height of this crisis. The key question remains of how to embed these positive changes on a permanent basis. Government’s active signposting towards the Cycle to Work scheme has highlighted the importance of promoting more active travel. The industry is now calling for more infrastructure to go alongside this demand-side policy measure, including more dedicated road space for cycling.
In both areas, the current crisis has had major short-term impacts but has also underlined the case for change in the medium term.
The UK is not very good at using data, and a more joined-up travel system is essential to the levelling up agenda which remains important.
The transport data that we have available could and should be used more successfully in order to ensure we develop a more connected and integrated system, incorporating more active travel and greater cycling and walking infrastructure. We can also put it to better use via traffic management, for example, or through the development of better and even more integrated mobility as a service platform. It’s now not hard to imagine a world where real-time data allows the public to plan journeys with far more information at their fingertips; from traffic flow and congestion information to the availability of electric car charging points or the location of the nearest e-scooter or bike available from sharing schemes.
Clearly for this vision to become a reality there is much to do. The integration of electric vehicle charging hubs into a multi-modal model will be key, as will the development of the necessary digital infrastructure that can facilitate the necessary exchange of data. The rollout of full-fibre broadband is important not just for connecting individual homes and businesses, it also provides vital backhaul for the development of 5G connectivity and will enable the development of smart transport networks.
The panel were unanimous in the view that more devolution is generally positive for transport.
The complexity of the challenge facing the industry means there is not going to be any one size fits all approach. The role of metro mayors will be important as they can create local transport solutions that work for their area but they can also learn from each other and encourage greater innovation by trialling different approaches in different areas. One point it will be important to remember however is the need for cooperation across different regions. There are many who will commute into the cities run by metro mayors but live outside its boundaries and they must not be forgotten.
We learned that in the coming months, the Transport Select Committee will be taking evidence from metro mayors about how they handled public transport throughout the crisis and their plans for the future of transport.
The overall feeling of the panel was that we shouldn’t simply return back to the status quo. Covid-19, whilst causing major disruption, has given us an opportunity to do things differently, and any recovery package needs to cement this change. There was an emphasis on the need for a ‘green recovery’ which promotes cleaner, greener, more sustainable transport at its heart.
Whatever the Covid-19 recovery looks like, what is certain is that it is going to come up against Brexit, the US/UK trade talks and many other factors that will have an impact on the security and future of the transport sector as a whole and the automotive sector in particular. This will have an impact in terms of talent, data, research and development and production.
The industry is coming up against multiple challenges on all fronts, it needs to be prepared and ready to embrace the changes coming.