Who's Who

David Hensher on COVID-19 and transport

David Hensher working from home, and in possession of a very neat bookshelf!

iMOVE asks Professor David Hensher, Director of the Institute of Transport and Logistics Studies at The University of Sydney Business School, his thoughts on just how COVID-19 is having an impact on transport, both now and in the future.

We first interviewed David in 2018, and you can catch what he does, where he does it, and his career path at David Hensher: Transport Economist. He also published a mammoth 7-part article for us, New transport technologies and business models versus traffic congestion.

In recent times, he is leading the research on our MaaS trial in Sydney project, and was one of the winners of the 2018 John H. Taplin Prize, for his work in the area of Mobility as a Service.

David is widely published (600+ papers published and counting!), influential, and it’s no surprise at all that he has some thoughts on transport and COVID-19.

What are the main effects or changes due to COVID-19 are you seeing right now?

A recognition that working from home is working out extremely well but that going forward we will support/allow a greater amount of working from home compared to pre-COVID-19, but that some face to face interaction will be appropriate in part for social reasons but some work activity is best facilitated face-to-face but nowhere near the amount thought before.

What changes would you like to see in transport when the world rights post-pandemic?

An opportunity to flatten the transport peaks by encouraging more travel outside of traditional peak periods so that congestion on the roads and crowding on public transport will reduce significantly (and indeed the need for greater investment in new infrastructure (all land modes) may be tempered.

And what changes do you think will happen in transport post-pandemic?

Growing questioning by workers in particular, and hopefully their employers, whether they really need to travel and how best to manage this by time of day, etc.

Cleanliness of the public transport network and improved information as to how many are on these systems.

Travellers’ preferences shifted moved from reliability and speed to focus on cleanliness and space and this may well have a negative impact on shared transport in comparison to the private car.

Rethinking the design of residences to accommodate more efficient and effective working from home – what you save on travel you outlay on additional energy costs but you gain lifestyle and wellbeing benefits.

David also provided a list of what he sees happening in the short and longer terms, part of his presentation at iMOVE’s Mobility as a Service: Progress and new insights from an Australian trial webinar on Friday 1 May 2020.

Short term

  • Public transport risk – limit standing on public transport
  • Growing popularity of the car and bio-security become the new attribute in mode choice
  • Encourage carpooling for known persons
  • Traffic congestion will worsen
  • Government to ensure parking stations and kerbside parking pricing does not become gouging
  • New local community spirit (as happened on ANZAC day just passed – get to know your neighbours)

Longer term

  • To contain/manage traffic congestion, government may mandate working from home for 1 or 2 days a week (allocate the days over 5 days like Singapore did with licence numbers of cars). Employers asked to support this initiative initially and if no evidence of voluntary commitment then mandate.
  • Redesign public transport accommodation space
  • Trains return to ‘olden days’ compartments
  • Retrofit single seats on in trains and ferries
  • 3 seats become 2 with spacing in buses
  • Infrastructure needs must be reviewed and put on hold large-scale projects and focus on small investments such as:
    • Improved bicycle lanes, Freight distribution capacity, Redesign of houses to accommodate efficient and effective office space
  • MaaS will start to align with views of Sampo Hietanen, MaaS Global:
    • ‘the profitable part [of MaaS] is having access to a car on weekend otherwise MaaS is just a utility service’ which may generalise into 7 days a week?
  • Support for electric cars
  • Shared modes will suffer unless ‘shared’ is a known grouping (but driver exposure risk unless protective cabins are installed, as in London Cabs)
  • E-scooters for short trips may prove increasingly popular (only mode that increased use in Finland during COVID-19 to date)

Like this interview? Click here to see the rest of our interviews about the effects of COVID-19 on the transport sector.

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