Kirsten McKillop on COVID-19 and transport
Kirsten McKillop’s role is Manager Automated Vehicles at the National Transport Commission. iMOVE interviewed Kirsten about her career last year, in Kirsten McKillop: Regulating the CAV future.
Now we talk to Kirsten again about the thing that is turning the world, including the transport world, upside down and inside out, the COVID-19 pandemic.
What are the main effects or changes due to COVID-19 that you’re seeing right now in transport?
It has been incredible how rapidly and significantly this pandemic has affected our lives, the transport industry, the manufacturing sector – everyone! Almost overnight we saw vehicle manufacturers either shutting their doors, ceasing production, or re-purposing those production lines to manufacture ventilators or other medical equipment. It’s been incredible to watch the industry react so quickly and decisively.
In my work life, my personal use of public and shared transport has changed substantially. I used to catch the train into work every day, use the trams at lunchtime, then often head home on the bus or in a rideshare car. Now my entire workplace is working from home 5 days a week, so my daily commute is less than 3 metres from bedroom to study. I’ve cancelled my yearly public transport pass, reduced my rideshare use to zero, and now basically use only my private vehicle or bicycle to get around.
A large part of my work had been visiting stakeholders around Australia as part of the NTC’s consultation program and attending conferences and working groups around the country and overseas. Since the lockdown hit, we’ve shifted our consultation approach to being entirely online. We’ve saved a lot of air miles, but still stayed in close contact with our stakeholders and progressed our consultation.
What changes would you like to see in the transport sector when the world rights itself post-pandemic?
The way the transport world was heading with connected, automated and shared mobility services makes a lot of sense from an efficiency and environmental standpoint.
I think this pandemic will define our society for the next year or two, but I don’t want it to be the defining challenge of our generation. The global climate emergency is still our primary shared challenge for the foreseeable future, and sustainable transport is really at the centre of that challenge.
As a society we’ve made a lot of sacrifices due to the threat of COVID-19, and I’d like to see us view climate change as a similarly imminent threat to our wellbeing and be prepared to make equivalent sacrifices.
I would like to see public transport improved, particularly with a focus on bridging that ‘last mile’ gap to make public transport more accessible.
And what changes do you think will happen in transport post-pandemic?
I think the pandemic has shown us the importance of freight movements and our freight networks. Getting essential supplies around the country, into shops and into people’s homes was one of the major logistical challenges early in the pandemic. I think we’ll see a focus on securing our supply chains to safeguard against future disruptions.
One of the other main changes we may see is a significant boost in Infrastructure spending as governments look to kickstart the economy. It will be interesting to see where that investment goes, whether to public transport, road or other transport infrastructure.