Akshay Vij on COVID-19 and transport
Akshay Vij is a research fellow at the Institute for Choice, within the University of South Australia. We interviewed him last year, and found out about his background, what he does now, and how he came to a career in smart mobility in Akshay Vij: Choice modeller.
What does he think about just how COVID-19 is affecting transport, the changes it’s making now, and may well make in the future.
What are the main effects or changes due to COVID-19 that you’re seeing right now in transport?
Obvious stuff really. Massive decline in motorised transport use (my suspicion is public transport use has gone down more than private car use, would be curious to see some numbers), potential surge in bicycling and other active transport. Finally people are telecommuting, after trying to get them to do so as a travel demand management strategy for decades.
The greatest benefit from my perspective is that people can see blue skies again in my hometown of Delhi, India, which overtook Beijing as the city with the most polluted air a couple years ago! Not as exciting as the dolphins re-appearing in the canals of Venice, but still counts 🙂
What changes would you like to see in transport when the world rights post-pandemic?
Slight to moderate increase in bicycling, as more people realise how easy and fun it can be. This will likely incentivise government and workplaces to spend more on providing appropriate bicycle infrastructure, such as bike lanes, lockers, shower facilities, etc.
Slight decline in public transport and private car use, as some people who’d stopped using these modes during the pandemic may not return to these modes after.
Substantial increase in telecommuting and remote working arrangements. Most workplaces will have necessary systems in place to support flexible arrangements post-pandemic, and there’ll be no excuse not to allow such practices anymore.
More generally, I believe public support for historically unpopular travel demand management strategies, such as congestion charge and toll roads, may increase, as people realise the benefits of these strategies, and the pandemic forces workplaces to develop systems that are compatible with these strategies.
And what changes do you think will happen in transport post-pandemic?
I’d like to see reduced private car use (so Delhi can still have its blue skies!). I hope some of that will happen through reduced trip-making, as remote working arrangements become more popular. I would like to see some of this shift accelerated by government support for other travel demand management strategies that encourage people to drive less and/or at different times. In particular, I would love for government to use this opportunity to invest heavily in bicycling infrastructure.
The pandemic is a structural break unlike any other in living memory, and offers a unique natural experiment to truly determine the externalities of private car use, through its impacts on health and environment. It would be nice if private car users could finally be asked to pay for the true costs of their behaviour through appropriate increases in fuel taxes, etc.