We are still very much in the midst of the battle against coronavirus. Many parts of the world have seen restrictions reintroduced as cases have soared, but it feels like the end may finally be in sight.
In his foreword to our eBook, Beyond Covid: Building Back Better, CitySwift COO Alan Farrelly explores what the post-Covid world could look like for bus operators... and the opportunities that await.
The public transport industry is as keen as anyone to emerge from the Covid nightmare. The ‘stay at home’ and ‘avoid public transport’ messages have decimated passenger volumes and fostered a fear of using buses and trains that will take time to reverse, while the requirement for social distancing has taken the ‘mass’ out of mass transit.
We don’t know when the pandemic will end, but we can feel confident that it will end. And while we continue to focus on the ongoing impact of coronavirus, we can and should also be thinking about the future.
What will the post-pandemic world look like?
It is reasonable to expect that in many ways we will revert to our previous behaviours. We will once again mingle in cafes, bars, nightclubs and sports stadiums when we are given the green light to do so - perhaps with renewed gusto! - but some things will have changed... and perhaps changed forever.
There were already shifts towards home working and online shopping, but the pandemic has put rocket boosters on them.
After Covid, many will continue to work from home and more meetings will be conducted using the online technology that we have become all too familiar with. It seems unlikely that we will witness a post-pandemic decline in online shopping and this will have serious implications for retail.
With fewer commuters and fewer shoppers, the role of public transport will change. The loss of these journeys - a phenomenon which the industry is powerless to influence - will need to be offset with new ones if we are to avoid entering a period of decline.
Decline is not inevitable, however. Leading industry figures see an opportunity to ‘build back better’. Looking towards a post-Covid world, Stagecoach Chief Executive Martin Griffiths commented: “We must be absolutely determined that we use this time, and the renewed focus on health and well-being and the future sustainability of the planet to make radical permanent changes that are a fitting legacy to the people we have lost.”
“We must be absolutely determined that we use this time, and the renewed focus on health and well-being and the future sustainability of the planet to make radical permanent changes that are a fitting legacy to the people we have lost.”
“As we look to the future, we must make Covid-19 a defining moment to deliver fundamental changes in how we manage mobility and put sustainability at the heart of decision making.”
Other operators have echoed this view, including Transdev. It stated: “We must take advantage of the position we find ourselves in and ensure buses reach their potential as an economic, environmental and congestion-busting solution.”
“If we only apply ourselves the way we always have done, we will only get similar results. Now is the time to create a revolution.”
Governments around the world are pledging to build back better, and public transport will play an important role in this. It can deliver better air quality, better carbon reduction, better traffic flow, better public health, better opportunities... The list goes on.
But to fulfil our potential, we must also get better.
Better advocacy is vital. It’s not good enough to simply do a great job and expect everyone to acknowledge it. We must vigorously make the case for public transport. We must show people the data that demands behaviour change in the same way that governments and their scientific advisors showed us the data about coronavirus.
We must also get better at identifying and exploiting opportunities. Opportunities to make savings and achieve efficiencies. Opportunities to make our services more affordable and convenient. Opportunities to find and serve new markets. Technology can play a big role here.
We can help the world to build back better by helping public transport to build back better. A bright future awaits.
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