Bruno Spandonide on COVID-19 and transport
Bruno Spandonide is currently working for the Department of Transport in Victoria as a strategic transport planner, and also participates in the Mobility for the Periphery working group of the International Transport Forum.
He volunteers as an Intercultural Ambassador for the City of Greater Bendigo, and prior to his current role Bruno worked for the CRC for Remote Economic Participation coordinating the Transport Futures research project on sustainable transport systems for very remote communities and undertook a doctorate in transport geography with the University of Tasmania.
What are the main effects or changes due to COVID-19 that you’re seeing right now in transport?
This is a worldwide issue that will redefine geopolitical dynamics and trade links (at the time of writing 90% of the countries in the world had declared cases with over 5 million cases in a context of full lockdown). The most dynamic places have been hit the hardest and the transport network is the primary vector of new hotspots.
Regional locations have been impacted less and later. Both at a domestic level and globally over 90% of cases occurred in large urban agglomerations. There were some exceptions (e.g. Bergamo, Mulhouse, Republican rural states in the US), but they all displayed clear links with large agglomerations.
Some industries have been particularly affected (e.g. arts, hospitality, sports) and will see transformative changes.
Mass transport such as air transport, urban public transport and maritime recreational transport will be operating at reduced levels for a period of time (less than 50%).
Active transport and motorised transport (cars, commercial vehicles, trucks) are recovering strongly. And pollution levels in April were four times lower than the annual average. For the first time Melbourne was on track with WHO 2005 Quality of Air targets of 10 PM2.5.
What changes would you like to see in the transport sector when the world rights itself post-pandemic?
A polarisation of political dynamics can be expected. As a personal aspiration I wish to see a more inclusive world where countries will be able to come together and positively open themselves.
Trade routes will also be affected with a gradual shift towards a greater intake for circular economies and there might be some great opportunities to develop advanced waste management and recycling systems.
I would also hope to see a greater uptake of renewable energies, and I expect fossil fuel exporting countries will experience decreasing levels of influences. A key element would be to fast track the electrification of our transport system so that Australia could become more self-sufficient energy wise.
At a regional level secondary urban agglomerations might see accelerated levels of development.
The service industry will be recalibrated around automated processes and a fast tracked digitalisation (e.g. working-from-home, augmented reality). For instance it was anticipated that 7-10% of the workforce would predominantly be operating through working from home arrangements in the next decade. Now it’s more likely to be over two times that range. Similarly, on a casual basis it was estimated that 25% of the workforce would be working from home and now it is likely to be two to three times this level.
While with a reduced level of traffic accidents were down 17% in May, we are likely to see an increased reliance on motorised transport from now on. This could result in an increase in traffic accidents in the next few months. I would hope that this might put a greater focus on road safety in the months to come.
Active transport is going strong right now, and there will be a unique window of opportunity to build the state-of-the-art active transport network (currently underdeveloped) that the country needs to improve the general level of livelihoods and wellbeing. That would be a game changer in terms of Quality of Life for all Australians.
For the transport industry Mobility as a Service (MaaS) and e-commerce will be fast-tracked at a global level.
Last but not least here, seeing MaaS smart microtransit developed could be prioritised. I think if there was a comprehensive fleet of high frequency, on-demand, 12- to 15-seater, automated buses that would be able to scan COVID19 apps, and get disinfected on a periodic basis, people would use it.
And what changes do you think will happen in transport post-pandemic?
I’m hoping for a great stance on global solidarity: in moments like this long-term geopolitical collateral risks are at the highest levels.
There will be a greater focus on circular economies, and on renewable energy, transport electrification, and smart waste management and recycling (I don’t have any stats on recycling during a pandemic but I’d imagine that it would be very informative).
As I mentioned earlier, there must be a focus on active transport. The state transport expenditure on active transport in Victoria is below 0.1% per year. The reality is that 5% would be a sustainable budget to play catch up ($500M). As a planner I can only dream about how much of a difference it would make if say every major project had a small capped contribution towards a global active transport fund. We could achieve so much in the space of just a few years!