With the curve beaten, we are now ready to familiarise ourselves with the ‘new normal’.
As governments begin to lift restrictions there will be some toing and froing as society defines exactly what the new normal is.
With the ever-present threat of a second wave of the pandemic, understandably, many will remain on high alert.
While shuffling across Melbourne to collect and return press cars the higher than usual number of cars populating the road gave us reason to think. At a time when schools were still closed and working from home was expected, the volume of traffic was concerning.
After asking around, the consensus was that people didn’t feel safe to use public transport and reverted to their cars.
More often than not, public transport in Melbourne is packed to the point of being overcrowded making social distancing impossible.
In a busy city like Melbourne, social distancing is at best a difficult endeavour. When it comes to public transport it’s impossible.
A survey by Motorpoint in the UK found almost two-thirds of people questioned are planning to stop using public transport in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Of the 630 people that took part in the online poll, 60.2 per cent said they wouldn’t be returning to the buses, trains or trams in the future.
Having a large percentage of regular users abandon public transport will make a difficult situation worse for those unable to work from home. So how will governments make public transport safe?
The easiest answer would be to add additional services to relieve overcrowding, however, there has been little to no interest in doing this before the pandemic. Perhaps the new normal will see politicians take a more proactive approach as unlikely as it sounds.
More often than not, our political leaders look for the lowest hanging fruit. So we expect that instead of using this as an opportunity to rethink public transport, governments of all stripes will move to address the growing congestion issue with additional taxes.
Congestion and emissions charges that are already commonplace in Europe are yet to reach us, however, recovering from the pandemic will provide a handy mechanism for local governments to bring these extra charges here.
During the lockdown in Britain, the City of London expanded the scope of its congestion charge, pre-empting the move away from public transport.
Our policymakers should be spending their time making public transport safe, clean and affordable. Instead of using the stick, more success might be found with a carrot.
It’s hard to mount an argument suggesting motorists need to contribute more than they currently do.
This is an issue that will cause problems in the majority of large cities around the world as the global economy fires back up.
Efficiently moving masses of people around is something Australia has never done well. So here is an opportunity to reset what we want from public transport.
Along with governments, the business community also has a role to play. If the majority of staff member’s work is done in an office with a keyboard, working from home should now be an option if they have proven themselves capable during the pandemic.
For now, considerable thought and foresight need to be applied to how our large cities function in a post-pandemic economy. There are opportunities found in these challenges.
Spotting lazy governments will be easy, just look for the ones that simply look to force travellers back to public transport by levying more costs on motorists.
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