The World Economic Forum (WEF) says the COVID-19 pandemic is a stress test to the resiliency and sustainability of transportation networks and infrastructure. Responses to it demonstrate the value of public-private partnerships and the integration of appropriate enabling environments and technologies to address what one United Nations official called the “biggest threat facing humanity over the long term”: climate change.
Governments can address climate concerns by ensuring that their pandemic stimulus packages are sustainable. WEF says that while it is true that the European Commission has used the vision of Europe’s Green Deal to guide the stimulus plans designed to recover European economy, there is still more opportunity to bring about a more resilient and sustainable future through COVID-19 recovery packages, especially when it comes to shared, electric and automated mobility.
Advancing policies that propel a transition away from low occupancy fossil-fuelled cars and toward the adoption of more sustainable shared, electric and autonomous mobility solutions can accelerate the transition to emission-free transportation in cities and help the sector achieve climate emissions targets consistent with 1.5 degree scenarios.
WEF underlines the importance of long-term post COVID-19 recovery measures maintaining carbon neutrality, and says governments and commissions should further embrace a collaborative transition to shared zero-emissions rides, and close the structural gap between car-utilization, multimodality, and public transit through the adoption of transportation demand management (TDM) approaches. Another key enabler to shared e-rides and high mileage fleet uptake is appropriate electric charging infrastructure networks consisting of slow-, fast-, and rapid-charging stations.
To decrease upfront purchase and lease fees, WEF wants governments to consider offering tax exemptions, financing support for owners or fleet programs, and vehicle replacement programs for electric vehicles. Cross-industry partnerships, from banks to vehicle suppliers and fleet operators, will be needed to enable these financial incentive strategies.
Some countries have already begun to adopt more sustainable transportation as they deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. For example, the pandemic forced Israel to modernize its transportation network almost overnight. Commuter volume decreased after lockdown, but Israel still needed to move a large number of essential workers quickly and cost-effectively, while allowing fewer people onto public transit to observe social distancing rules.
To facilitate efficient low-occupancy commutes during the pandemic, Israel led an ad-hoc initiative to leapfrog out of outdated transit services. It developed a range of creative solutions, such as a large-scale pilot to re-invent mass commuting with cutting-edge technology, combining pooled rides in private cars with on-demand transit services.
Its experience shows that change in this sector is possible, and could serve as a model for many other congested, polluted cities and countries that aspire to a cleaner and more equitable future.
WEF says one of the most groundbreaking ideas for transforming the world’s creaking transportation systems and clogged roads has been to see mobility as a service that enables a person to get from one place to another, rather than a product, such as a car or bike that one has to own or maintain. The market for mobility as a service (also known as MaaS) is expected to grow by $180 billion from 2019 to 2023.
Commuters using MaaS would, for example, be able to enter their destination into an app, which then offers a range of options such as car- or bike-sharing, bus and train, taxis or car rental, or a combination of these options.
Israel did just this when it mobilized 176,500 responders for the national effort to fight COVID-19. In place of its existing rigid transportation network, it introduced a tailored commuting system. An on-demand transit routing algorithm calculated the most efficient journey for each passenger and routed buses accordingly. In a trial involving 5,500 responders, users simply entered their location and planned destination via a specially created app. In 60% of cases, they were dropped-off within 300 meters of their destinations.
Within three weeks of its launch, 12,000 responders had downloaded the app, and 75,000 trips were taken using 250 different modes of transportation, from buses to vans and cars. While this system was implemented to deal with the crisis, it may be here to stay and may save the public $25 million a year. With the right public-private partnerships, WEF says it could easily be replicated in other countries that need to upgrade their systems.