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The future of commuting: life after coronavirus

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life after coronavirus

For many of us, the past few months have been spent exclusively within our own four walls (apart from popping out to the supermarket). However, with lockdown restrictions easing and people getting back to work, we’ve taken a look at how peoples commutes are likely to change in a post-coronavirus world.

It was only a few months ago that the norm was to be shoulder-to-shoulder with a complete stranger on a tube, train or bus. But, in this rapidly changing world, we also need to change the habits of a lifetime for both our safety and for the others around us.

Goodbye public transport?

When the pandemic first hit, we saw some drastic changes in the way people were using public transport. The Guardian reported that bus numbers fell by 60% nationally, while in London there was a staggering 94% drop in tube journeys. 

With people going back to work, the anxiety of public transport hasn’t lifted. In fact, Self.inc has found that 11% of people said they were looking for a new job after the pandemic specifically to avoid public transport.

In other countries across the globe, a range of different solutions have helped to keep people moving. Could we take a leaf out of South Africa’s book? Their informal public transport (in a nutshell: privately operated public transport) has helped to ensure public transport can continue. Devin de Vries, CEO of WhereIsMyTransport has stated: 

Cities should seize the opportunity to learn from informal transport networks and incorporate them into the urban fabric, embracing their strengths of resilience, flexibility, and adaptability. Other informal sectors, such as street vending, are central to so many economies, and will also flourish from this collaboration.

But, will public transport really bounce back? The government has issued new guidance for public transport, which recommends the following:

  • Travel at off-peak times
  • Take a less busy route and reduce the number of changes
  • Start or end your journey using a station or mode of transport you know to be quieter or more direct
  • Avoid physical contact, try to face away from other people, and keep the time you spend near others as short as possible
  • Avoid consuming food and drink on public transport
  • If you can, wear a face covering if you need to use public transport

There may even be bigger changes coming to buses and trains in the future too. Unique Group, is taking orders for fever screening technology from businesses across the country. They believe that this technology will become as popular as CCTV and may play a massive part in transport and commuting as we move forward. This technology records a person’s body temperature, with real-time alerts to help prevent the spread of the virus. And, this type of fever tracking technology has already been installed in Bournemouth Airport

So, although it doesn’t look like public transport is going to fizzle out completely, there are definitely going to be a lot of changes that will make it a less desirable option for getting you to work. And, with so much uncertainty, it’s unclear how long it will take to return to ‘normal’ – if ever.

Does this mean more cars on the road?

With fewer and fewer people willing to risk using public transport, the biggest fear is that our roads will become gridlocked with people switching back to cars. Not only will this mean a slower journey time, it would also mean a rise in air pollution – something the world has been looking to reduce for years. 

So, do these changes mean the world is stepping back into the fog? Not necessarily. One of the positive things that the pandemic has influenced is air quality, with the Guardian reporting 11,000 fewer deaths from pollution in the UK and elsewhere in Europe. And, one thing’s for sure, no one wants to go back to the same polluted world we were in before lockdown – a YouGov poll commissioned by Greenpeace UK found 71% of people were concerned about the possibility of air pollution returning to pre-lockdown levels once restrictions are lifted. But, the big question now is how this can be achieved with the government’s suggestion that more people should drive to work. 

Fiona Howarth, CEO, Octopus EV may have a solution. The creation of the Octopus Electric Vehicles Green Business Charter helps businesses to help influence and encourage people to think more about the environment. The Go Green Car Scheme offers employees a 30-40% savings on their electric car costs, if the company commits to all future company cars and fleet vehicles being electric. 

So, although we might start seeing an increase in the number of cars on the road, it might not be all doom and gloom for the environment. And, cars aren’t the only vehicles getting an electric face lift.

The rise of the bicycle (and the ebike)

Since lockdown restrictions have started easing around the world, push bikes are becoming the order of the day, with pop up bike lanes, wider pavements and cycle and bus-only corridors being created by The Government as part of a £250 million emergency active travel fund.

And, it appears it’s not only the government who are keen to see this change. In Australia, “bicycles have become the new toilet paper”, with bike retailers struggling to keep up with the boom in sales throughout lockdown. 

Not only do bikes offer an environmentally friendly solution to commuting while social distancing, they’re also the perfect way to get some daily exercise without an expensive gym membership – or so we thought. Bicycles of the future might not be the workout routine they once were. 

Electric bikes, or e-bikes, are set to make a resurgence on our streets. Not only are they great for the environment, with researchers at the University of Leeds‘ Centre for Research into Energy Demand Solutions (Creds) finding that the use of electrically assisted bicycles will have the greatest impact on emissions, they’re also easy to get started with. If you can ride a bike – you can ride an e-bike. 

Judging by the data, people are ready to jump on the back of an e-bike for their daily commute. Looking at Google Trends data, we can see a massive surge in the number of people searching for ‘e-bikes’ on Google.

Google Trends data for searches of “ebikes”

Google Trends data for searches of “ebikes”

Another electric adjustment to our commute that we may need to become used to is the rise of the e-scooter. Currently, electric scooters – which can travel at up to 15.5mph – are banned on roads and pavements in the UK. But, with safer methods of transport being explored all of the time it’s looking likely that these ride on scooters might be a permanent addition to our streets. The Government are currently conducting trials to decide whether to legalise the use of these across UK roads and pavements. 

So, if you work close to home, jumping on the back of a bike could be the best solution, and with fewer cars on the road, there’s never been a safer time to get started. Bear in mind, however, your bicycle might be great right now while the sun is shining, but are you prepared to ride in winter?

And what about longer commutes?

Much of the changes that have been made are great if you don’t work too far from home, but what about if cycling or walking to work isn’t feasible, and electric cars are out of your budget? 

One of the most overlooked, and arguably one of the best, options for both safe and environmentally friendly travel options is on a motorcycle, scooter or moped. There are so many reasons to choose a moped or motorbike to get you to work, including cost, environmental impact and ease, we’ve even compiled a list of the top 10 reasons to become a scooter commuter. 

Switching to a bicycle may seem like an easy option, after all it’s just like riding a bike. But, making the move to a powered two wheeler is a lot quicker and easier than you might think. You can ride up to a 125cc after completing a CBT (compulsory basic training), a simple one day training course at a local motorcycle training centre where an instructor will help you learn the basics to be safe and competent on the road. Not only this, but owning a scooter or motorcycle might be cheaper than you’d expect. A typical 125cc scooter or motorcycle will only cost £19 a year for road tax, you’ll have loads of free parking options available and most 125’s will easily achieve over 90mpg. Plus, a motorcycle or scooter can save you significant time on your journeys – say goodbye to traffic jams and road rage. 

So, why aren’t the government doing more to promote scooters and motorcycles as a safe alternative to public transport? MCN have recently spoken with Dr Julian Lewis, the MP for New Forest East in Hampshire, about this issue. Dr Lewis has been pressing the UK government, suggesting that while the improvements for cyclists is positive, more needs to be done to raise the profile of scooters and motorcycles as safe, environmentally friendly alternatives:

“If they are expecting people to try to reduce their use of public transport, they really need to be focusing on incentives for people to get on bikes and not just constantly talking about cyclists. I think the government should really put their thinking caps on and see what they can do to encourage people to use the motorcycle as a sort of happy medium. If and when parliament comes back, I propose to get my BMW K75 out of the garage and start using it.”

Even though there is very little official information and guidance from the government with regards to motorised bikes, it seems as though the public are taking it upon themselves to make the change to powered two-wheelers. We took another look at the Google trends data, this time for mopeds and motorcycles.

Google Trends data for searches of “motorcycle”

Google Trends data for searches of “motorcycle”

Google Trends data for searches of “moped”

Google Trends data for searches of “moped”

As you can see from this data, there has been a modest rise in the number of searches for both motorcycles and mopeds after a drop over the past few months. However, this is nowhere near the surge we have seen for e-bikes, which is unsurprising given that there has been no mention of these options by the Government in the UK. 

The MCIA have also noticed this bike shaped gap in the messaging. They are asking for riders to contact their local MP suggesting that Powered Two Wheelers (PTWs) could be the perfect answer to the impending transport crisis. They’ve also made it really easy to get in touch, by providing a template letter which you can copy and paste and send to your local MP.

Even with the lack of publicity, motorcycle manufacturers are getting ready for an increase in orders, with Triumph stating that their daily commuter bikes (for example, Triumph Street Twin, T100) are likely to see a positive impact in sales in a post-COVID world. Plus, Royal Enfield are gearing up to deliver more rather than cutting back, with more than 14 new models in the pipeline, as well as working on plans for an electric future.

Can we just stay at home?

Love it or hate it, a lot of people have been able to successfully carry out their work from home. And, although this has meant less contact with your favourite co-workers, it goes to show what is possible. Imperial College has recommended that businesses continue to allow their staff to work from home, if possible, when the lockdown restrictions are lifted. 

How do you feel about these changes? We’d love to know what your plans are for getting back to work after lockdown. Have you already switched to a different method of transport? If you’re still not sure which option is best for you, take a look at our guide on how to commute while social distancing for advice.

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