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The COVID-19 crisis has forced cities around the world to make changes in a few months that many believed would take decades. The question is, will they last?

 

Just a few months ago, New York City was wrestling with unprecedented and seemingly impossible-to-control congestion. Today, traffic is down 60 percent, and average speeds in the city have increased by 288 percent.

 

“You just don’t see traffic like this ever,” said Samuel I. Schwartz, a consultant and former city traffic commissioner.

 

There are a few reasons these changes may outlast the virus.

 

  1. First, more people may work from home full-time. Gartner reports that 74 percent of CFOs plan to shift at least 5 percent of their workforces to permanently remote work.
  2. Secondly, people that have been forced to digitize their lives may not go back. For example, banking mobile app use has soared 50 percent as people learn to do tasks at home that previously would have required a trip.
  3. Thirdly, now that the public is conditioned to minimize trips, or to use bikes instead of cars, cities may take the opportunity to restrict auto access and reconfigure streets for other forms of transit.

 

All of this could accelerate the advancement of Mobility-as-a-Service (MaaS) solutions, multi-modal trip planners that provide access to public and private transport options. Some public transit agencies in the United States are adding on-demand services as people shun crowded buses and trains. In Lincoln, Nebraska, city officials transitioned a planned on-demand transit program for people with disabilities to one for the general public. Using a mobile app, residents can book a door-to-door ride for a flat fee of $5, with the ride shared by at most one other person as long as social distancing restrictions are in place.

 

 

Keep the Change

Consumers looking at their costly private autos, idle in the garage for the past few months, might finally be open to car-free living. The arrival of nimble, affordable door-to-door services linked to other modes including bikes, buses, and trains might make ditching the car attractive enough to try. Those that have lost jobs or income due to the crisis might be the first to make the change.

 

Cities looking at their empty streets and clean air are having similar thoughts of keeping the change. Under Italy’s nationwide lockdown, congestion in Milan has dropped by 30–75 percent, and air pollution with it. The city plans to close 22 miles of its streets and reconfigure them for biking, walking and electric vehicles. “We think we have to reimagine Milan in the new situation,” Vice Mayor Marco Grannelli said.

 

MaaS in the form of multi-modal shared transit with public and private options available in a unified trip planner could boom if auto ownership declines and bikes, scooters and on-demand services flourish.

 

A report by Juniper Research predicts that the Mobility-as-a-Service market will grow from $405 million in 2020 to $54 billion in 2027. The report expects the growth to begin in earnest in 2021, with little growth in 2020 due to the pandemic. The authors recommend that MaaS platform providers move now to engage with transit authorities to design pilots for next year, in order to be positioned to accommodate future growth.

 

“Mobility-as-a-Service can provide unique value in a new world of social distancing, increased working from home, changed transport assets and commuters turning to increasingly varied and disparate transportation options,” said John Nuutinen (right), CEO of MaaS API provider Skedgo.

 

It remains to be seen how and when the virus will be contained such that people can move about freely, and when the shared economy will reassert itself. There will be a new normal, of course, and part of it may be reduced auto use and more adoption of MaaS.

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