With millions of people sheltering at home to mitigate Covid-19 pandemic, Cities are experiencing a steep drop of traffic congestion. Media offer surreal pictures of desert roads and empty highways, mirroring the reduced industrial and commercial activity, and also leading to a significant improve of air quality.
The present crisis is expected to have a longer-lasting impact on some forms of urban mobility. Car and private vehicle sales have collapsed in quarantined areas, but some early data from Wuhan, China, show they tend to soar back as soon as Cities start to open back up. This can be partly explained by the perception of personal vehicles as safer than public transportation or shared mobility in the post Covid-19 ‘new normal’.
Does it mean coronavirus will jeopardise all the efforts for more sustainable, low-emission urban mobility systems? Not necessarily.
The World Economic Forum’s Global Future Council on Mobility has recently published some revised guidelines for City managers and mobility partners to rethink the movement of people and goods (full report available here). In the short and medium term, the transition towards zero-emissions public and private fleets should not be discontinued, as well as any effort to design mobility-as-aservice solutions, improve multi-modal integration, and reduce the demand for single occupancy private vehicle usage. However, health should become an absolute priority, so any mobility-related decision should be aimed at ensuring the physical safety, information security and perceived well-being of all people.
The WEF report clearly calls Cities to a smarter use of available data, appropriately aggregated and anonymized if necessary, to optimize commercial operations and efficiently conduct mobility planning and management. This includes the opportunity to collect and leverage parking-related data to remotely monitor and control existing parking facilities, increase average usage rates, and launch new services for drivers to experience an easier, quicker, cheaper, and less stressful parking search.
In an Open City perspective, local authorities and mobility operators can establish collaborative policies guiding the responsible use of mobility data. By implementing open data models, Cities can benefit of timely and accurate information to better manage and evaluate their transport networks, ensuring adequate deployment of public transport and anticipating possible infrastructure repairs and maintenance needs. At the same time, mobility businesses can design innovative applications and systems by mashing up data streams generated by parking sensors and other urban devices – taking advantage of blockchain technology for superior data validity and security.
The post-pandemic world has the potential to have smarter urban mobility options: better data sharing and a closer public-private collaboration can contribute to make transportation systems safer, more sustainable and efficient.