Designing for Harmony in a Post-Covid Mobility Ecosystem
Fresh from his appearance at CoMoUK’s 2020 Collaborative Mobility conference, our Managing Director takes the temperature of mobility design and possible solutions for a more balanced, sustainable future…
Changes for the better?
The Covid-19 pandemic has brought major short-term change to how we travel, work and live. The question is how will it influence us in the longer term? What changes are here to stay and how much will we return to the behaviours and patterns of life we had before?
Many of the current drivers of change are clear: lockdown has pushed a large proportion of working society to move from office to home. This has changed travel patterns with public transport for commuters largely running empty. For some train companies, their peak periods are now at the weekend as we look to travel more for leisure.
The fears for people travelling in public has also driven car usage back up again. There are reports of increased congestion and air pollution. This is a worrying trend as many had seen the pandemic as an opportunity for a paradigm shift: a moment of change that would increase more sustainable transport, in particular walking and cycling.
Hope, localism and the search for space
A positive by-product driven by the other impact of home working and lockdown is the rise of localism. The major city centres are dead, but the local centres in the suburbs, towns and villages are doing better. Rightmove has reported a significant increase in enquiries in the outer zones of London, with searches doubling in some areas compared with last year and Zoopla has talked about Covid-19 creating “a search for space.”
The question is, if it seems likely that the future for many is a hybrid with more home working and a reduced time in centralised city-centre offices, what is the impact on mobility & transport?
In reality, there will probably be a change for mass transit providers like rail. We will still need to be connecting our local areas into cities, but the pattern of travel will change and therefore customer-centric elements like service models and ticketing structures will have to adapt.
The local solution is also interesting. It’s probably still a moment where we want to drive greater change in the search for low-carbon solutions and get more people out cycling and walking, for their personal mental and physical health as much as for the wider transport system. With car-sharing and e-scooters on the rise – with schemes now active in over 100 cities – experimentation and innovation in private business, as well as government policy, will play a crucial role in fostering and maintaining this shift sustainably.
First/Last mile integration
What will make this change stick, however, is using local communities to drive what works in local contexts. In real terms, this translates to a need for a range of options that suit a wider range of individual needs. If we can do this, it might help drive back down the personal car usage that’s threatening a real revival post-pandemic.
What makes it accessible to all?
So what does design have to offer, as much of this is about public policy and other governmental levers? Well to make this work there is lots of good design needed to change all the different parts of the ecosystem to make this new model work better for people. The challenge is how do we design the overall system that aligns all the different parts of peoples’ daily lives and journeys? Our world is fragmented with public and private bodies owning different parts of the system.
We can see this in the controversy around some cities experimenting with closing streets to create havens for pedestrians and cyclists. There is some evidence that it has just moved the problem to other parts of the city with increased congestion and air pollution with fewer streets available for the same number of cars. Its short-term effect is not to reduce the number of cars, although it might have that impact in the longer term. Designing an intervention in one part of the system rarely works if done in isolation.
The challenge for designers is to translate policy into action but someone has to be given the role of designing at an ecosystem level. In all likelihood, this points back to Government to own this and commission the right environment for creative designers to play and have an impact.
The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted many problems and underlined where people and business can quickly fall by the wayside but the pandemic has also shown us that in order to create a harmonious mobility ecosystem, the community and local stakeholders must be truly integrated with government policy and sustainable human-centric design.