Transport in the ‘new normal’

15th June 20200 comments

Covid-19 will change everything, with a ‘new normal’, not least in the transport sector – or so we are repeatedly told.

But is that really going to happen, or just collective wishful thinking by much of the public (and most transport planners) who see the quieter main roads, local streets and rural lanes we’ve experienced during lockdown expanding into a Dutch-style nirvana of lots more cycling and walking?

I’m pessimistic, being rather closer in anticipation to James Gleave, of Mobility Lab, who recently blogged: “Transport has not had a good crisis. There, I’ve said it.”

This series of blogs will try to show a way forward, against the pressures to revert to business as usual, and so disprove my pessimism. And that means asking some very basic questions about how and why we travel that tend to get taken for granted.

At Simply Connect, we have deliberately not opened up before now about the basis of our thinking, preferring to prove the way forward in practice. Covid-19 has changed that: our approach and business model is built around sharing small vehicles with other people, which is clearly not possible to promote in current circumstances.

So rather than tweak that model to try and push into the already-crowded home-delivery space, we preferred to adapt our platform to address the loneliness of many vulnerable people triggered by Covid-19, whilst standing back to assess the broader picture of where transport is heading. Without implying fault to the transport sector, that likely future direction has every indication of having more car use, not less, and with more severe social exclusion.

Only by going through a process of fundamentally analysing how we travel, can we identify what transport could and should be, and whether our approach, at Simply Connect, is still valid in helping us get there as a society. Future blogs will look at this process in more depth, but the short answer to that last point is that, yes, our delivery model of sharing smaller vehicles, and our business model to achieve this, each stand up to scrutiny.

To round off this first blog entry, let me pose the question we started off by asking ourselves.

In Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs, with its five levels and about 20 distinct needs, none (except perhaps the third order need of ‘friends’) implied that mobility (or travel) be required for personal fulfilment. Yet despite this secondary status, how can it be that transport:

(Carbon and cost figures relate to the UK, but will be similar in many other countries. And I’m aware Maslow’s work is now perceived by some as outdated, with the exact hierarchy questioned, but it is still popularly seen as a useful framework for defining how to achieve personal satisfaction.)

So what’s gone so fundamentally wrong with how we ‘do’ transport, to meet our mobility needs? That’s what I’ll be addressing in the following posts.

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