John Cardoso on COVID-19 and transport
John Cardoso is a Senior Product Manager at data and technology company, Intelematics. In his role, John oversees Intelematics’ traffic data capability, which provides valuable insights on road traffic and mobility and powers real-time navigation devices across Australia.
Prior to his role at Intelematics, John held senior product development roles at the Victorian State Government and Experian Asia Pacific.
In this interview today, John shares his thoughts on how COVID-19 has impacted transportation and what it could look like in a post-pandemic world.
What are the main effects/changes you’re seeing right now?
At Intelematics, we capture comprehensive road traffic data across Australia on average traffic speeds, traffic volumes, traffic incidents and traffic origin and destination sources. Before the start of the pandemic, our observations of traffic volumes and vehicle counts nationally provided a strong baseline for what was about to follow. Then, once government restrictions were enforced in late March, we began developing weekly reports informed by our data to show how many cars were travelling on Australian roads.
These reports found the following:
- In the week commencing 4th March – the number of vehicles on Australian roads was 88% of vehicles for the same period in 2019.
- In the week commencing 23rd March – Once Federal and State Governments introduced restrictions on the movement of people – the number of vehicles on Australian roads fell to 48% of what it was for the same period in 2019.
- In the week commencing 6th April – Nationally, traffic bottomed out– the number of vehicles on Australian roads fell to 33% of what it was for the same period in 2019
- In the weeks following, we saw steady week on week increases in traffic nationally ranging between 1-4% – until the Federal Government announced the easing of restrictions across Australia on 8th May.
- National traffic didn’t climb back to half of its normal rate until the week commencing 18th May – when the number of vehicles on Australian roads sat at 53% when compared with the same period in 2019.
- In the week commencing 29th June – National traffic then reached three-quarters of its normal rate– when the number of vehicles on Australian roads sat at 74% of what it was during the same period in 2019.
What changes would you like to see in transport when the world rights post-pandemic?
I think we need to look at the flaws in our current system that the outbreak of COVID-19 has exposed. It’s only by our own creation that everybody flocked to get on the train, or the bus, or the tram, or get in the car at the same time each day to head to work. Like many people, I’m hoping that COVID-19 has brought about the end of the 9-5 workday.
The rise of the telecommute, or more people working from home, has eased pressure on our transport systems. This has numerous benefits, including easing congestion and reducing harmful carbon emissions. It also allows a clearer and safer route for people who can’t work from home such as healthcare professionals, factory workers, and retail and hospitality workers if their workplace is open for business.
Currently, what we see in Victoria is proof that the fight against COVID-19 is far from over. We need to continue to be careful until we find a vaccine – and who knows how long that could take. Which means we should adapt the way we live, which includes the way we move to our new normal. In line with government guidelines, people who can work from home must continue to do so, to free up transport for those who can’t work from home. Those who are using public transport regularly would be wise to wear a face mask, as per health expert recommendations.
Ideally, I would love to see businesses incentivised to move their entire workforce to a telecommute set up. For example, we could see the government providing tax breaks to companies who adopt a remote workforce. There’s benefit for individuals too – a company with a remote workforce has fewer overhead expenses – for example, office rent, office equipment – which frees up more money to put into salaries. Of course, this then frees up the transport system for those who really need it – it’s a win-win for everyone.
And what changes do you think will happen in transport post-pandemic?
It’s clear from observing the empty trains, trams and buses that people are not comfortable catching public transport right now unless they have to. I think we’re seeing a move towards private forms of transportation, in that people who would usually take the train, tram or bus to work now prefer to travel by car. We can expect this trend to continue for the next few years, as people remain wary of COVID-19 infection.
However, we also see a fall in car sales, which is another interesting trend and seems counterintuitive to current transport behaviour. I’d suggest that while people are more comfortable driving than catching public transport right now, confidence in the economy and job security has bottomed out. Hence, people are less inclined to commit to big purchases.
This may mean that carshare and car subscription schemes become more popular in the next few years, which would help people stick to private transport minus the financial commitment. Carshare companies would still need to prove that they can adhere to stringent hygiene practices between users to instil confidence in the safety of carsharing among drivers.
Much like COVID-19 has perhaps changed the concept of 9-5 workday to more flexible working arrangements, both in terms of time and location, it also triggered the demise of the CBD. COVID-19 has raised a pertinent question – why it is that we all descend upon the same location at the same time every day? Surely there must be a more efficient way of doing things.
The answer to this problem rests with the rise of regional economic centres. We’ve proven that we don’t need to be working in big offices in major city CBDs to get the job done. Let’s face it the CBD model hasn’t been working for a long time, anyway, creating crippling congestion and contributing to carbon emissions.
If people no longer need to travel to the CBD daily for work, it will potentially influence where people are choosing to live. Why spend so much money on living in the inner city when you can get something much bigger and better a little further afield? Also, with people telecommuting more and more, rather than buying their lunch, or coffee each day from businesses in the CBD – they’ll be supporting businesses within their local communities.
In theory, this shift will result in more significant investment in regional centres. Whether that’s the rise of the telecommute allowing big business to move head offices out of Sydney or Melbourne, or the local governments investing in regional infrastructure – or ideally, both.
However, government investment in regional centres doesn’t replace investment in major freeways connecting major cities. Major freeways and highways will continue to play a critical role in transport and logistics, but we will also see them used by Australians for more leisure travel.
Who knows how long it will be before we can start planning overseas holidays again? Until then, people will be more likely to invest in domestic travel for at least the next few years and travelling by road seems to be emerging as a safer and cost-effective option. Going forward, we need to have the infrastructure to support the likely spike in road trips and caravanning holidays.
COVID-19 has definitely brought about some significant changes to the way we live, work and travel, and some of it is here to say. In many ways, it’s opened our eyes to what’s possible, and we’d be better off not going back to the way things were before.