Impact of Covid-19 On Sustainable Mobility Markets

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The current situation is affecting every sector, but going forward what will be the impact on sustainable mobility?

In the short term at least, things don’t look great for mass transit. Social distancing is difficult on buses and trains, and some stations, without a drastic reduction in passenger numbers. Will passengers come back to their favoured routes unless they can be reassured that appropriate safety measures are in place? Transport for London is predicting that they can operate safely at no more than 15% capacity. Hard to make money at that level of revenue. However, moves by many companies towards staggering the working day and smoothing the peaks of commuting offer a glimmer of hope; running at a more consistent level of demand without the massive peaks and troughs does allow for more efficient deployment of staff and vehicles.

There are opportunities here for innovation though; the imperative to minimise contact between staff and passengers will drive an increase in online and smart ticketing, in automation and contactless operation in stations and on vehicles, and ultimately should accelerate the development and deployment of autonomous vehicles. No driver is one less person to manage an interaction with.

The long term necessity of cutting carbon emissions remains, and with the added interest in air quality stemming from the adverse impacts of polluted air on respiratory health, the drive to EV and hydrogen to both decarbonise and cut emissions is likely to continue and accelerate.

The current lockdown has seen a surge in home deliveries, and that trend seems highly likely to continue as people recognise the convenience and increased rates of home working make delivery times less of an issue. Again, the imperative to decarbonise and cut emissions is growing, and likely to accelerate the demand for both clean delivery vehicles and new innovative technologies. Electric vehicles for “last mile” delivery are rapidly approaching; Amazon seeking to install significant EV charging capacity at their new depot in Cheshire is clear evidence that EV delivery at scale is imminent. For many of the smaller local companies who have switched to or augmented their home delivery service, an EV strategy makes increasing sense. The autonomous robot trials for last mile delivery, and innovative projects like the safe drop off facilities being trialled in the US, will surely accelerate as demand for non contact deliveries increases.

If times are tough for public transport operators, there are huge opportunities in personal mobility. The demand for E-bikes has surged, and that trend seems set to continue. The UK Government has announced an immediate £250m investment in active travel infrastructure, along with accelerated guidance for Local Authorities and, excitingly, trials of E-scooters in several areas. The Scottish Government this week committed £10m to support pop up active travel measures such as cycle lanes; and partnered with charity Sustrans to offer support to Councils. These investments represent a recognition of the increased importance of and public interest in active travel. Social distancing and appropriate cleaning regimes present challenges for E-bike hire and for publicly available charging infrastructure, but there are clear opportunities to develop solutions and speed up the take up of E-bikes and related infrastructure.

Times may be tough in the very short term, but there are growing opportunities for many companies in and supplying to the sustainable mobility space.

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