Bouncing Back

Rebel(lious) visions for a post-Covid-19 society

A new opportunity for the mobility transition

Mobility during the coronavirus lockdown – hardly any traffic on the roads, large-scale avoidance of public transport, and airlines experiencing a collapse in demand. A multi-billion euro blow to the economy. But there were also upsides: clean air, people reclaiming their towns and cities from cars, and working from home becoming an entirely realistic proposition. We advocate decisive action to organize the mobility transition effectively, which would also benefit the economy.

Until now, the basic purpose of having good transport links has been to facilitate growth and demand. This involved an increase in labor productivity, good transport connections as the basis of an attractive business climate, and reductions in traveling times as a driver of investment in transport infrastructure. At the same time, spending on improving public transport was rising, with the aim of curtailing, at least in part, the unbridled growth in the use and ownership of cars. Despite this, traffic congestion was still a feature of everyday life before the coronavirus. We complained about the harm to the economy and the environment, but changing our own behavior proved challenging.

Now, we have spent three months living in another world, and the mobility industry is facing big problems. The airlines are struggling, true enough, but surely €29 for a single flight to Barcelona is absurd. And couldn’t we produce aircraft that cause a little less harm to the environment? Isn’t the car industry seizing the momentum to move even more rapidly towards clean and safe products? And what will public transport look like after corona?

Some doom-mongers are predicting that the mobility industry as a whole will take a huge economic hit in the next few years. Traditional markets are indeed suffering greatly. And perhaps that will remain so for sectors like short-distance business air travel, and the services related to that market.

❝ On the other hand, those who relish opportunity, like us, can envisage the emergence of new forms of mobility providers. ❞

They are seeking to make the most of the post-coronavirus era, which we believe will be characterized by several aspects:

  • In many sectors and organizations, people will combine working at home and at the office – or ‘somewhere else’ – at varying times of the day;
  • Traveling will not just be a matter of ‘as quickly as possible,’ but also of ‘clean,’ ‘safe,’ and ‘reliable’;
  • We will have more and more home deliveries, and;
  • Different forms of mobility will be increasingly ‘smarter.’

What we are setting out here is nothing new. The things we need to learn from this situation can be seen every day on social media. And, to be honest, these proposals have featured in all kinds of well-intended initiatives in recent years. Until now, though, seizing the bull by the horns has proved difficult.

To really make headway with the transition now, we believe that two previously missing preconditions should be set out as soon as possible:

  1. An ambitious national program, supported by central government, the regions, and the market. Harness the best parts of the Beter Benutten (‘Optimizing Use’) program and the Mobiliteitsalliantie, and the lessons learned from the coronavirus crisis. Centralized agreements, decentralized action.
  2. A new set of objectives and indicators not about the outcome, but about the transition itself. After all, COVID-19 has shown that strength in numbers can have the desired effect.

A useful side-effect of the transition is that bottlenecks in existing mobility systems will not feature, or only do so later, resulting in a reduction or shifting of the associated costs. This will also lead to fewer investments in the more traditional areas, which could then be used for new technological applications.

‘It is only by working together that we can make mobility more enjoyable, better, more reliable, and sustainable’

By: Remco Derksen and Martin van der Does de Bye


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