Moving Beyond COVID-19

Published: July 22, 2020

In a recent webinar hosted by Intelligent Transport in association with Brian Swanson, Moovit’s Director of Sales Engineering, we discussed the tools that are helping municipalities, transport agencies and operators, and large businesses operate during the COVID-19 pandemic. Watch the webinar on-demand here.

Here are Brian’s answers to some of the audience’s questions about transport and mobility post-COVID-19.

Do you think COVID-19 will prompt the development of MaaS?

Definitely. COVID-19 will prompt further development of the MaaS ecosystem in the long-term. While the transport industry will suffer in the short-term, like other industries, it will continue to remain a lifeline and the backbone of society. As cities begin their transitions into the new normal, we see several opportunities for further development of MaaS.

First, one of the proponents of MaaS is the need to change people’s movement behaviours in order to consume mobility differently. The pandemic has rapidly changed our habits and the way we see the world, especially in the public and public transport spaces. We’ve seen a huge increase in the popularity of micromobility due to its ease of use and ability to adhere to social distancing guidelines. They enable people to freely and safely travel without adding private cars to the road. As cities start transitioning out of lockdown, offering safe options with the freedom of choice in how and when to travel will help citizens start their new normals on the right foot and prevent a mass exodus back to private cars.

Agencies will also need detailed, granular data in order to both win back rider trust and adapt their services to the new normal. They are turning to MaaS providers to help them make strategic data-driven decisions. Agencies will need to optimise their fleets to ensure service levels are up to speed, which requires having detailed information on ridership peaks and valleys and adapting services as needed. In addition, agencies should help grow riders’ confidence about returning to public transportation by offering detailed transport data, including how crowded a bus or train is, real-time arrival data so they don’t have to wait at crowded stops, information on cleanliness in stations and onboard. By integrating this data into MaaS apps, passengers can receive up-to-date information that will help them feel more confident when taking public transport.

Further, by integrating mobile fare payments, and real-time data, cities and agencies can harness technology to optimise their services both for efficiency, cost and to avoid citizens going back to single-car usage by offering new, more sustainable transport alternatives.

Does COVID-19 pose a threat or opportunity for on-demand mobility?

COVID-19 poses a major opportunity for on-demand solutions. Where trains and buses have lots of capacity but, due to social-distancing measures, can only support a low percentage of riders compared to previous ridership levels, on-demand shuttles allow for more physical distancing and are cost-effective for more frequent routes. Moreover, on-demand transport offers convenience for passengers and enables agencies to automate their services and be more agile in transporting their riders safely and efficiently. An example of that is when we have seen on-demand services used by essential employers during the pandemic.

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How will social distancing be implemented in larger cities where mass transport is a vital form of service?

Because our mobility habits have changed in the wake of COVID-19, the ability to keep our social distance is going to be a key factor in whether people choose to come back to mass transport or flock to private cars. To avoid this, it is imperative that agencies and cities work together to create safe mass transport and alternative options that will win back riders while keeping both riders and employees safe.

Through public-partnerships, cities and transport agencies can help create a more resilient transport system. Integrating public transport with micromobility and other multimodal services can help cities and agencies leverage new solutions to solve old transport challenges, especially first-/last-mile travel and transport deserts, and can help encourage citizens to adopt alternative modes of transport. Cities around the world are already implementing car-free zones to support more micromobility users, which will help keep mass transport from being overcrowded.

In addition, data is going to play a huge role in helping to maintain social distancing on public transport. Both agencies and riders need to know real-time arrival and crowdedness information in order to make informed decisions. With a better understanding of how and when riders are using public transport, agencies can effectively alter and adapt their services in ways that prevent crowding, by increasing frequency during peak times and decreasing service or using on-demand transport during off-peak periods.

How do you reduce costs in this new reality?

Having the right data is going to be vital in helping agencies improve and optimise their services in order to reduce costs and be more efficient in the post-COVID era. The only practical way agencies can improve their systems is by understanding current and emerging riding patterns and behaviours and which services, routes, lines, etc, can be altered or cut. Simultaneously, they should take advantage of using new services, such as on-demand, to replace low-use lines.

Do you think all PTAs in Europe are ready to move to a new paradigm of mobility data analysis for tactical urban planning?

If they’re not ready it’s most likely because they don’t understand its effectiveness. Transport data and analysis is becoming an increasingly vital part of urban planning due to the ability to gain granular analytics and holistic insights on how, when, and where people move around cities, which can be used to optimise infrastructure and services including and beyond public transportation.

With operational and safety optimisation in mind, how is user demand being mapped/analysed by operators to move on after lockdown?

One of the most effective ways to understand user demand is through origin-destination analysis, analysing where riders used public transport versus other modes of transport, and if/where they transferred lines/modes during their trip.

Using recent data collected during the lockdowns will be especially important in understanding the differences in ridership from pre-COVID times. Ridership will not go straight back to normal levels, and it’s crucial for budget-strapped agencies to fully understand what current ridership trends and behaviours look like in order to rearrange services to better-fit rider needs.



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