After the outbreak of the COVID-19 crisis there were good efforts in transport to minimise the possibility of catching the Coronavirus and measures to protect essential service providers, including public transport workers, freight employees and those who used their services.
In the short term at least, transport professionals must maintain a vigilance to keep specific measures but now we must also start addressing policies and strategies to ensure a sustainable transport system in the long term.
Positive and appreciative feelings toward service providers are certainly strong at the moment. Sadly, however, we are starting to see some behaviour, in transport and retail, that is moving back towards more self-centred desires.
We might have stopped fighting over toilet paper, but there are signs that some are re-focusing attention back to very specific personal desires.
We must take the next steps with transport that helps shape our environment and the quality of life we experience.
2 Public transport
2.1 Current activities and ideas for the future
In our last newsletter, Yale Wong from Sydney University gave a concise run down of short-term preventative measures such as sanitising, one person per seat, keeping social distance and ventilation. Measures to protect the driver include loading through the centre door and recently we have seen screens for bus drivers.
Now we are seeing measures that will have a long-term impact. Digital technology has greatly enhanced our access to timetable information but a bus might arrive with no capacity left for you to use. Now the availability of seats is being incorporated in the trip planners.
Professor David Hensher for Sydney University thinks this could be taken a step further for trains to give information about which carriages have seats because of a tendency for people to fill up the centre carriages.
2.2 Cleanliness now a key measure
Yale Yong also pointed out that Australia has been successful at reducing the costs of running buses but the COVID-19 crisis has highlighted community values not just the profit-and-loss values of operating a transport service.
Singapore has a very strict and tightly managed system of operating their bus system. The government owns the buses and sets the time tables. Private industry tenders to run the services based on cost and performance criteria such as cleanliness. There are considerable fines for an operator that does not maintain the buses in an acceptable condition.
This allows the government to implement policies that give priority to service conditions not just financial return. They will add extra services (and pay the contractor for them under agreed rates) in order to keep the occupancies below 85%. Among other things they don’t want the image of crowded buses on the streets.
During a recent AITPM Zoom meeting during lockdown, organised through the Western Australia branch, one participant noted that COVID-19 had focused attention on the general cleanliness of public transport not just the usual time, distance and cost factors.
2.3 Lateral Thinking
Recently Wendy Adam, past president of both the Queensland and the NSW AITPM branches, drew our attention to how queuing for social distance might also help us look at queuing in general (April 2020 Newsletter). This issue was taken up in a recent UITP (International Association of Public Transport) webinar where consideration is being given to get passengers to queue before they get onto the train platform. Loading and unloading onto trains is not only a struggle for passengers at times, it can be inefficient. The capacity of a rail system is dependant on how long the train has to remain at the station.
2.4 Behaviour Change
Transport planners however have to take the step of not just producing mechanisms to bring about improvement but also understanding behaviour.
During the UTIP webinar it was noted that there have been recent instances of people spitting at bus drivers. This is obviously abhorrent and we can and should express revulsion at this behaviour. Perceptively, it was also noted that it is easier for people to act badly when there are very few other people around. It is like the anonymity of social media.
So, while we should pursue law and order approaches of penalising offenders, we should also look at ways in which we can make the environment conducive to better behaviour.
Liz Ampt is an international expert in transport surveys, especially household surveys that help understand the reasons behind our transport decisions. She now has a major role in programs to bring about behaviour change. In regard to these current times she made these comments:
During this time, as ever, but more particularly during this time – it is common to hear stories about people who are keeping the country running. People like health workers, and other essential service people like tradies, and of course bus drivers. In general, most of us are really grateful – and I’m sure many of us have experienced warm feelings about our country and the way these people have soldiered on.
But that’s a general feeling – not really that personal to me. And I am of course shocked when I hear of someone spitting on drivers!
But to check my own feelings, I asked myself – how do I feel about actually getting on a bus? And getting near to the driver? And wondering whether he or she have been exposed today to anyone who has the virus? Does that keep me from getting on the bus? Does it make me less friendly to the driver?
I find it worth questioning myself about these things – working out if my ‘global’ feeling of good will to bus drivers actually translates to the way I act – because of course that is what we all need to do. Now and always, of course.
In an interview, Liz gave a wonderful example of how looking at the problem from the person’s point of view brought about change when traditional methods had not. We reported on this in the December 2016 AITPM newsletter.
The freight industry has always, quite rightly, said that it is the backbone of industry in this country; it carries the economy of our nation!
One of the positive things to come out from the COVID-19 pandemic was a greater recognition of the wide range of people who work in the freight industry; not just truck drivers but schedulers, administrators, vehicle sales and maintenance and so on.
3.1 Industry’s response
The industry has responded to COVID-19 with measures such as sanitising at depots. But some actions from service providers have had a very negative affect. The closure of toilets and showers at truck stops creates enormous impositions.
The freight industry continues to campaign in these areas.
The government has frozen the Road User Charge, which is set to recover the heavy vehicle share of road maintenance and improvements. It will stay at 25.8 cents per litre for diesel in 2020-21 instead of increasing by the scheduled 2.5 per cent.
The government has also implemented an Instant Asset Write Off which, at the time of writing, is due to expire on 30 June 2020. The industry wants an extension.
3.2 Pollution Implications
These measures have obvious implications for the financial performance of an industry that in part is struggling. But transport planners should become involved in addressing other implications. Not indexing the price of fuel reduces, to some extent, the encouragement to purchase more fuel efficient and less polluting vehicles, where as asset depreciation enhances that direction.
The average age of trucks in Australia is said to be 18 years and a truck that was built in 2002 is likely to have 60 times the level of pollution than a modern vehicle meeting the latest standards. This fact needs to be part of the considerations in the long term. Perhaps a variable Road User Charge that reflects to some degree the pollution impact of heavy vehicles.
3.3 Delivery Times
The industry has called for the removal time restrictions when trucks can make deliveries, which is a benefit in reducing travel in peak periods but has an impact on local communities. Could this be a push for quieter vehicles including hybrid and/or electric trucks.
The freight industry called for the removal of tolls to help companies under financial pressure and Transurban has implemented a program so that essential service works such as those in the health industry do not have to pay tolls. This emphasises the inefficiency of the current system and might help us move to a more universal road user charge. The great majority of planners think we should have a road user charge on most trips that can vary the price of travel based on the characteristics of the trip” when, where and how long. Until now politicians have steadfastly refused to consider it.
Now is the time for transport professionals to use the adaptations to maintain existing patterns of origins and destinations to embrace structural adjustments to bring about more substantial changes in our basic forms of interaction.