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What is the 'New Normal' for Transport Planning?

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

Article by: Alan Bailes CTTP, MSc and Director - The Transportation Consultancy Ltd. (ttc)

Over the last few years, we have seen Connected and Automated Vehicle (CAV) technology, Mobility as a Service (MAAS) and the ‘Changing Urban Landscape’, as the main challenges facing the transport planning profession. These advancements in technology were supposed to be the panacea that would solve all the congestion and environmental problems. However, how to model the effects of these changes within the transport demand modelling process was perceived as a challenge to the profession. Back then we recognised at the time that the ‘future would be very different from the past’.

Now when I look back at my recent lecture notes on the subject, I realise that COVID-19 has set us a new and more important challenge.

As we now look at an exit strategy to the current crisis, we must also focus on the future of transport post the coronavirus epidemic. This now presents the transport planning profession with an exciting opportunity to develop and implement transport policies that were seen as too radical in the past. From the evidence thus far, it appears that cyclists and pedestrians have taken back the streets and so there is an opportunity for us to rethink transport policy and investment priorities, with the result that growth in the demand of vehicular trips needs to be reviewed, particularly in the short term.

I would expect that as human beings we will change our working practices by working more from home, we will also change our travel behaviours, with the result that in the short term we will question our willingness to share transport with fellow humans. Companies will, in turn, adjust their ways of operating which in turn will affect office space requirements and the need for office-based staff.

In addition, I expect the Government to intervene to make sure that the country is better prepared in the future and divert monies toward health and education in order to become more resilient. At the same time, the government will need to re-start the economy by investing in infrastructure.

We have now seen over the last two months greater innovation and improvements in productivity, with businesses and the government trying to become more resilient. During the forthcoming prolonged recovery period, I would anticipate transport policies being more quickly implemented at all levels of government. As transport planning professionals we must also adapt and seize this opportunity and look again at our experience with scenario planning and seek to identify transport planning interventions that can be incorporated into the changing landscape.

I firmly believe that the future, the ‘New Normal’, will be radically different from what we anticipated only a few years ago, it will be a new and exciting time for the profession. We need to seriously consider the future of urban mobility and planning transport by monitoring the changes as we move into the ‘New Normal’ in order to understand the likely evolution of future transport trends and causal effects on mobility.

Forecasting the demand for travel has always been a challenge to the profession and given the current conditions and likely outcomes, it will now become a unique challenge given the changes in current elasticity of demand for travel over the last few months. It is even more important therefore, that going forward, the work we undertake and the policies we set must be underpinned by relevant and up-to-date evidence and take into account relevant market signals.

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