COVID impacts demand a change of plan: funding a shift from commuting to living locally



Conventional transport infrastructure planning has been based on wholesale commuting to and from the city centre.
Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock

Benjamin Kaufman, Griffith University

Long-term planning has delivered mass transit systems to cater for high-patronage, hub-and-spoke transport systems. Unfortunately, this has left many city residents without basic access to public transport services. And we could never have planned for the impacts of COVID-19.

Our previous plans were based on the best available data at the time. Today, these plans must be critically reviewed using new data that properly represent the world and our transport needs as they are now.




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Important facts to keep in mind

1: Fewer people commute to work.

The work-from-home transition is well under way. Our current transport networks (except for roads, which have rebounded to traffic equal to or above pre-pandemic levels in some cities) are operating far below previous levels, even allowing for social distancing. This may not be the best time to break ground on major infrastructure projects planned under previous assumptions of population and demand growth.




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2: Disadvantaged populations lack access to opportunities.

Public transport is key to enabling everyone in a population to be a productive member of society. Many disadvantaged groups cannot drive or afford car ownership. However, they also lack access to public transport, particularly in the outer suburbs.

Unfortunately, coronavirus impacts will hit the disadvantaged the hardest. If we want everyone to be able to participate in the economic recovery, we need to promote basic levels of access regardless of an individual’s circumstance.




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3: Population growth will not meet projections.

Migration bans will greatly reduce short-term growth. Current projections show a population up to 4% smaller in 2040 than it would have been in a non-COVID world. This will further decrease demand for urban transit services as well as demand across many sectors of our society. These trends are important because much of our planning is based around these population growth metrics.




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However, our suburbs still lack basic public transport services. If we want to increase patronage, we need to bring services to more people by improving coverage of our sprawling, low-density cities.

Over 80% of the population of our biggest cities live in the outer and middle suburbs, yet this massive majority have limited to no basic public transport service. Across our five largest cities, Infrastructure Australia reports, “public transport disadvantage in outer suburbs is significant”.

Populations living in inner, middle and outer suburbs of Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide
Estimated resident population by suburban classification, as count and proportion of city population.
Infrastructure Australia: Outer Urban Public Transport: Improving accessibility in lower-density areas

Households’ access to jobs and services gets much worse with increasing distance from the city centre. Development of suburban and regional mobility-as-a-service (MaaS) offerings could promote better access in these “harder to serve” areas.




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Moving the country forward

Job creation will be an important aspect of economic recovery. Yet too often we look to large construction projects as the answer. There is plenty of other job-creating work to be done in our communities.

We could, for example, increase the miserly funding for our piecemeal walking and cycling networks.

We could also expand on-demand services to suburban and rural residents who lack basic public transport access. On-demand transit does not follow fixed routes or timetables. Riders book a trip for a cost similar to a bus fare.

Passenger waiting to board a Bridj on-demand bus service.
Bridj is one of the operators that is expanding on-demand services in Sydney and other cities.
Bridj Transit Systems/Facebook



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These options will encourage local spending to support small businesses. These are an important piece of our social fabric and improve livability in our communities.

We need to look locally

A focus on localised investment in the many neglected communities across the country will deliver major benefits. Money already committed to large projects that are under way represents sunk costs that may be too deep to renegotiate. However, future plans using public funds must be re-examined.

Investments should target disadvantaged groups and broaden access to transport networks, encouraging new potential users. For many, assistance in gaining access to the necessities of life will be invaluable during the coming economic recovery. Guaranteed access to groceries, medical services, work opportunities and recreational activities must not be reserved for the elite.

We need better localised public transport and we need it for the majority of citizens, not just those who live in the inner suburbs of our capital cities. Most regional populations lack even rudimentary public transport coverage at reasonable frequency.

Increasing services in these areas will create valuable jobs that will stick around, unlike large one-off construction projects. The money will stay local, going into the pockets of operators who live and work in their own community.

While our long-term planning is not to blame for our current situation, we need to develop for the future, not the past. The financial costs of building and maintaining our current infrastructure are not going away. However, we can no longer refuse to invest in many of our underserved communities.

It is time to ensure everyone, regardless of their income or where they grow up, has the basic services they need to be a productive member of society.The Conversation

Benjamin Kaufman, PhD Candidate, Cities Research Institute, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Can we use the RAAF to bring home stranded Aussies overseas?



Richard Wainwright/AAP

Peter Layton, Griffith University

Amid mounting concern about Australians stranded overseas during COVID-19, Labor leader Anthony Albanese has offered a solution.

This week, he suggested using the Royal Australia Air Force (RAAF) VIP aircraft to bring people home. Albanese says these could bring the estimated 25,000 Australians stuck overseas, “100 at a time”.




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While the federal government has downplayed this suggestion, the pressure to do more to bring home Australians stuck overseas continues.

So, is it feasible to use the RAAF? What challenges might this pose?

What are the VIP aircraft?

The VIP fleet is operated by the air force to fly the governor-general, politicians and military leaders on official business when commercial flights are not suitable.

Albanese has honed in on the VIP fleet for obvious reasons: it’s currently sitting idle, the aircrews involved need to maintain their flying proficiency and Australians have always held a jaundiced view of the aircraft being simply another “pollie perk”.

However, while all five aircraft are long range, only the two B737 Boeing Business Jets could conceivably carry the 100 people mentioned — and that’s after reconfiguring their normal VIP fit-out that accommodates 30 passengers. The other three aircraft, the brand new Dassault Falcon 7X executive jets, have room for only 14 passengers.

The five aircraft are good for the VIP role, but they are not large capacity international airliners. They are inherently a rather inefficient way to move large numbers of people.

What else could the RAAF use?

The RAAF does have seven large airliners in service. These are the aptly named KC-30A Multi-Role Tanker Transport, a modified Airbus A330 airliner used for air-to-air refuelling of fighter aircraft and strategic airlift.

KC-30 Tanker flying over a mountain range.
The RAAF have larger aircraft than the VIP fleet.
Supplied/United States Air Force

In the latter role, each aircraft can carry 270 passengers. For the past several years, the aircraft have been busy in the Middle East. But the last deployed KC-30A is just returning.

Allowing for some aircraft being under maintenance and others busy with ongoing training, the RAAF could potentially allocate two to three KC-30A aircraft to the “bringing Aussies home” task.

It’s possible but not straightforward

This would not be as simple as it sounds. The KC-30As are military aircraft, so decisions would need to be made whether to fly them into civil or military airfields overseas.

In the latter case, embarking passengers may be difficult. Moreover, being military aircraft (not scheduled civil air services), formal diplomatic approval would need to granted by the other countries involved.

There are further technical issues of guarding RAAF aircraft if they need to remain overnight at a foreign airfield, refuelling the aircraft on arrival, embarkation procedures and keeping the crews COVID–free.

There are also more mundane matters. like having aircraft stairs available and monitoring pilot duty hours — exhausted pilots are a flight safety hazard.

What about Qantas?

While this is technically feasible, there are also efficiency concerns.

Australians are scattered across the globe. They may need to find their way to major departure airport hubs — as diverting a large aircraft to pick up only a few passengers from a country may not be sensible. In addition, smaller countries may be unsure about letting a large, obviously military aircraft use their airfields.

It is in these smaller countries that Albanese’s idea of using the two B737 Business Jets might be more appropriate.




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But if the RAAF has airliners, so too do the civil airlines. Qantas has many aircraft and crews available at the moment who, like the RAAF’s VIP crews, need to maintain their flying experience.

It’s true Australian taxpayers have already paid for the RAAF aircraft and crews, so the additional costs of picking up stranded Australians would be low. On the other hand, the airlines and their associated unions are in difficult circumstances. Should the RAAF do what Qantas could?

On Thursday, Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce told Radio National the airline was in talks with the federal government to subsidise flights home.

Qantas plane waiting on a runway.
Perhaps Qantas flights should be used instead of the RAAF.
Joel Carrett/AAP

Finally, there’s the issue of quarantine. Only 4,000 Australians have been allowed back each week due to government imposed quarantine hotel restrictions. After a federal government push to the states, this is set to be increased to 6,000.

Large airliners, whether operated by the RAAF or commercial airlines, can bring many people home, but the cap on arrivals is a notable constraint.

This means the biggest benefit of such an approach might be not so much bringing more people home, but making the flights affordable and available. Today, with strict passenger limits, the airlines are charging high fees. This is a significant impediment to people returning, even with the Australian government offering loans to assist.

We could use the RAAF if we wanted to

So, while Albanese’s idea may be critiqued on its finer points, it is broadly doable. It’s perhaps a good if small example of politics in action.

At its core, when it comes to bringing home Australians in distress, it becomes a simple political question.

How should the government spend Australia’s taxpayer dollars?




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The Conversation


Peter Layton, Visiting Fellow Griffith Asia Institute, Griffith University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Federal government pre-empts national cabinet to raise the cap for returning Australians


Michelle Grattan, University of Canberra

The federal government, under pressure to expand and accelerate the return of stranded Australians, has pre-empted national cabinet by announcing the “cap” on these arrivals will be expanded from about 4,000 up to 6,000 a week.

After the announcement Western Australia immediately hit out, saying the national cabinet process was being flouted.

More than 25,000 people are presently registered as having expressed a wish to return, and there have been numerous hardship cases in the media and in representations to MPs offices.

The government says the new weekly caps will be: NSW 2,950 (present cap is 2,450), Queensland 1,000 (500), South Australia 600 (500), and Western 1,025 (525). Victoria, struggling out of its second wave, will not have any arrivals.

This adds up to only 5,575 but the government hopes the other jurisdictions will take some people, although there are not commercial airline services into the ACT, the Northern Territory or Tasmania.

The government wants the higher numbers operating by late this month.

The caps were imposed at the request of states, which were concerned at pressure on their quarantine facilities, in particular when Victoria, where there was a quarantine breakdown triggering the second wave crisis, stopped taking any returnees.

People wanting to come home are not just facing the problem of the cap but the difficulty of securing flights, and at reasonable prices.

Unveiling the higher cap Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, who has responsibility for aviation, said he had written to premiers and territory leaders to tell them the caps for international flights based on quarantine levels.

“Not every Australian will be able to come home by Christmas, I accept that. But we want to get as many of those who need to come home, want to come home, paid for a ticket to come home, to be able to do so”, McCormack said.

The federal government says it has constitutional power over quarantine, and so does not need the states’ approval. But it will take the new quotas to Friday’s national cabinet.

Under the existing deal the states make the quarantine arrangements and carry the cost – although they are now charging returnees.

The opposition has called for the government to use RAAF planes to return some people. But the government says there are thousands of unused commercial seats, and the VIP fleet has only very small capacity. It also rejects calls for the use of federal facilities for some of the returnees, saying they are not available or suitable.

Attorney-General Christian Porter, asked on Perth radio whether WA had agreed, said he did not know but “we very much hope they will”.

WA premier Mark McGowan said he had not known about the announcement beforehand and described it as “very directly outside the spirit of the national cabinet”.

“I don’t really like the fact that this has been sprung via a press conference without a discussion with the people actually required to implement it,” McGowan said.

He warned of the risks of putting pressure on hotel quarantine and said using Commonwealth facilities should be looked at.

The federal government says it would consider ADF assistance with more quarantine, noting ADF personnel have been helping WA with hotel quarantine for weeks.

WA Health Minister Roger Cook said it was extraordinary the matter was being dealt with through a letter from McCormack and said Scott Morrison should call “his dogs off” and work with the premiers.

NSW premier Gladys Berejiklian said that after a request from the prime minister “I consulted my relevant ministers and the police commissioner, who is in charge of quarantine, and everybody said they could take on that extra load”. Her agreement was on the basis other states agreed.

Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk also indicated her government was willing to take more people.The Conversation

Michelle Grattan, Professorial Fellow, University of Canberra

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Cars rule as coronavirus shakes up travel trends in our cities



Taras Vyshnya/Shutterstock

Neil G Sipe, The University of Queensland

As with other parts of the global economy, COVID-19 has led to rapid changes in transport trends. The chart below shows overall trends for driving, walking and public transport for Australia as of July 17.

Australia-wide mobility trends for the six months from January to July 2020.
Apple Mobility Trends

Unfortunately, the current lockdown of metropolitan Melbourne, which is at odds with trends in Australia’s other biggest cities, is skewing the national average. These data, provided by Apple Mobility Trends, are available for many cities, regions and countries around the world.

Updated daily, the data provide a measure of trends in transport use since early January 2020. The chart below summarises the changes since then in driving, walking and public transport for Brisbane, Sydney, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth.


Data: Apple Mobility Trends

With the exception of Melbourne, driving has recovered and is now noticeably above pre-pandemic levels.




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Public transport use is still well below baseline levels. It is recovering – again except for Melbourne – but slowly. The exception is Adelaide where public transport is only slightly below the baseline.

Walking is doing better than public transport. Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth are slightly above the baseline, while Sydney is slightly below it. Melbourne is still down by about a half.

How badly did lockdowns affect travel?

The chart below shows the largest declines in driving, walking and public transport were recorded in the period April 4-11. Most of the lowest values coincided with Easter holidays. However, regardless of the holiday, this was the period when levels of transport use were lowest.

The declines are fairly consistent across the cities. For driving, the declines were around 70%. For walking, the declines ranged from 65% to 80%. Public transport recorded declines of 80-89%.


Data: Apple Mobility Trends

The recovery in driving is due, in part, to it being seen as having a lower risk of COVID-19 infection. People see public transport as the least safe because of the difficulties of social distancing on potentially crowded commutes.

A study in early March by an MIT economist amplified these fears by associating public transport in New York City with higher rates of COVID-19 infection. Unfortunately, the research had some significant flaws. Health experts have since indicated there is little evidence public transport has been the source of any COIVD-19 infections.




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Neverthess, public transport agencies are in serious financial trouble. In the US, experts are warning that, without large federal subsidies, public transport services are facing drastic cuts, which will impact where people live and work. Such shifts pose a threat to the economic viability of cities.

What is known about other transport modes? While comprehensive datasets are not available, evidence is emerging of the impacts on ride, bike and scooter sharing.

Ride sharing

As with all other transport modes, the pandemic has had big impacts on ride sharing. However some ride-sharing companies, like Uber, have diversified in recent years into areas such as food and freight delivery. These have provided much-needed revenue during the ride-sharing downturn.

Market analysts are predicting ride sharing will recover and continue to grow. This is due to need for personal mobility combined with increasing urbanisation and falling car ownership.




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Bike sharing

Globally, transport officials are predicting a long-term surge in bicycle use. Cycling appears to be booming at the expense of public transport.

Beijing’s three largest bike share schemes reported a 150% increase in use in May. In New York City, volumes grew by 67%. Bike sales in the US almost doubled in March.

In response, many cities are providing more cycling infrastructure, with cities like Berlin and Bogota leading the way with “pop-up” bike lanes. New Zealand has become the first country to fund so-called “tactical urbanism”.




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Melbourne has announced 12km of pop-up bike lanes and is fast-tracking an extra 40km of bike lanes over the next two years. Sydney has added 10km of pop-up cycleways. Use of some Brisbane bikeways has nearly doubled, leading to criticism of delays in providing pop-up lanes.

London intends to rapidly expand both cycling and walking infrastructure in anticipation of a ten-fold increase in bicycle use and a five-fold increase in pedestrians. This complements a £250 million (A$448 million) UK government program to reallocate more space for cyclists.

Paris plans to add 50km of pop-up and permanent bikeways in coming months. It’s also offering a €500 (A$818) subsidy to buy an electric bike and €50 to repair an existing bike.

Milan will add 35km of bikeways as part of its Strade Aperte Plan. The Italian government is providing a 70% subsidy capped at €500 for people to buy a new bicycle.

We will have to wait to see whether all this interest translates into longer-term mode change.

E-scooters

E-scooter use has declined, as has the value of e-scooter companies. Lime, one of the larger companies, was valued at US$2.4 billion (A$3.4 billion) last year but is down to US$510 million. Nevertheless, investor interest continues. Uber, Alphabet, GV and Bain and others put $US170 into Lime in May.

In Europe, ride-sharing company Bolt plans to expand its e-scooter and e-bike services to 45 cities in Europe and Africa this year. Another positive sign for this mode is that the UK, where e-scooters have not been street legal, has begun trials of rental e-scooters.




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It is still too early to predict the long-term impacts of COVID-19 on transport. What the data show is that driving has recovered and is even exceeding pre-pandemic levels. Current trends suggest active mobility – cycling, scooters and walking – may gain mode share. Whether public transport can recover is questionable, unless a vaccine becomes available.The Conversation

Neil G Sipe, Honorary Professor of Planning, The University of Queensland

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Don’t abandon plans for high-speed rail in Australia – just look at all the benefits



Thomas Nord/Shutterstock

Marcus Luigi Spiller, University of Melbourne

The Grattan Institute’s call to “abandon” plans for any high-speed rail network in Australia fails to look at the wider benefits such a project can bring by way of more productive economies and more sustainable towns and cities.

The study authors argue the development of any bullet train network linking Brisbane to Melbourne via Sydney and Canberra is “unsuitable for Australia”.




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But what their argument neglects is that a project like high-speed rail has a unique capacity to reshape cities and population settlement patterns in positive ways.

A question of cost

The institute’s study says the idea of high-speed rail is an unwanted distraction in policy-making for the nation’s transport future. Its case relies on a review of the high-speed rail experience in Europe, Japan and China.

All of these nations, it says, have vastly different distributions of towns and major cities to that in Australia, which has extremely long distances between a few large cities.

The study also critiques a 2013 Commonwealth analysis that found a A$130 billion high-speed rail project linking Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne would generate a benefit-cost ratio of 2.3 to 1.
So every A$1 invested in a high-speed rail network would generate A$2.30 in benefits such as travel time savings, avoided vehicle operating costs and reduced road congestion.

But the Grattan study authors say that figure is based on a “cherry-picked” discount rate of 4%. This is economics jargon for the minimum return that the community would expect from the investment of its collective resources in any project.

The Grattan study also says the 2013 cost-benefit analysis did not allow for cost over-runs. Nor did it consider the greenhouse gas emissions associated with the enormous quantities of concrete and steel needed to build the infrastructure.




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So why are some people, including the federal Labor Party, still so enamoured with the idea of high-speed rail when others would have it binned?

Some projects reshape cities

Not all transport infrastructure projects are equal when it comes to cost-benefit analysis. Some investments have a transformative effect on population settlement patterns – they shape cities and regions.

The Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Melbourne Underground Rail Loop are classic examples of city-shaping projects. Each altered travel times between different parts of the metropolis, which then shifted the location preferences of households and businesses. This led to a substantially different city structure compared to what might otherwise have developed.

Other projects, the vast majority of government transport outlays, merely follow or service the pattern of settlement established by the city-shaping investments. These “follower” projects include the local arterial roads and tramways that circulate people and goods within cities.

The Commonwealth’s official guidelines for major project evaluation recognise this distinction.

New ways of living, learning, working and playing become possible with city-shaping projects. By comparison, the procession of follower projects simply perpetuates settlement patterns and economic structures.

This is the claim and appeal of high-speed rail. Advocates argue such an investment would divert a significant proportion of urban growth from the far-flung suburbs of metropolitan areas to new regional locations. That’s because these regions will then have similar travel times into core city labour markets.

In these regional locations, households would enjoy greater housing choice and affordability, more walkability and better access to open space. They could even have better access to a range of community facilities than their metro suburban counterparts.




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Advocates also argue businesses in the big cities and intervening regional areas will be able to connect with each other at lower cost and source the skills they need more efficiently. This would boost productivity.

Consider all the benefits

The 2013 analysis took into account issues such as congestion, emissions (from travel) and transport accidents. But it did not attempt to quantify and monetise the effects of high-speed rail shaping cities and regions.

Arguably, the most important set of benefits from this investment were left out of the economic evaluation, simply because they are difficult to measure.

Modelling how the supply chains of businesses might change under the influence of city-shaping projects, or how the housing preferences of people might shift, is undoubtedly challenging. But being difficult to measure makes these impacts no less real.

Despite this limitation on the scope of benefits, the 2013 study said the high-speed rail project would return a benefit-cost ratio of 1.1 at a 7% discount rate, which the Grattan study says is the usual test applied to transport projects.




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Grattan says the project barely scrapes in at this higher discount rate and implies many other projects would offer ratios greater than 1:1 and should be preferred. These would typically be smaller, follower projects that address local congestion problems.

But a project achieving a 1.1 benefit-cost ratio means Australia would still be better off undertaking the project compared to a business-as-usual case.

If the transformative effects of high-speed rail include more compact and walkable cities with less car dependency and greater productivity, then such a network has good reason to keep its grip on the Australian imagination.The Conversation

Marcus Luigi Spiller, Associate Professor of Urban Planning (honorary), University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

How to avoid cars clogging our cities during coronavirus recovery



Iain Lawrie, Author provided

Iain Lawrie, University of Melbourne and John Stone, University of Melbourne

As we re-open our economy and workers gradually return to workplaces, overall travel will increase. However, the need to maintain social distancing means public transport can’t operate at usual capacity. And fears of crowded public transport will lead to commuters making a much higher proportion of trips in private vehicles – unless they are offered viable alternatives such as the ones we discuss here.

Impact of physical distancing on public transport capacity.
International Transport Forum, OECD

Our initial analysis (as yet unpublished) of Australia’s major cities suggests a shift to cars will produce severe traffic congestion if even a modest proportion of the workforce returns to their usual workplaces during the COVID-19 recovery. In this article, we suggest some public transport solutions to avoid congestion caused by a shift to car travel.




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Globally, this trajectory is already becoming apparent. As lockdowns are eased, car use is rising much more quickly than public transport use. The latest figures from cities as diverse as Berlin, Los Angeles, Chicago, Auckland and Sydney all show this.

What are the implications of this trend?

First, the shift to private vehicles will be a bigger problem in cities with centres traditionally served by public transport than dispersed, car-dominated regions. Modelling by Vanderbilt University in the US showed an 85% shift of mass transit riders to cars would increase daily commute times by over sixty minutes in New York, but merely four minutes in Los Angeles. This is because public transport serves a mere 5% of journeys to work in Los Angeles but 56% in New York.

In cities that rely heavily on public transport, or even those with car-dominated suburbs but transit-dominated centres such as Sydney and Melbourne, a shift to cars for CBD trips will very quickly overwhelm the capacity of the road network. Pre-pandemic, 71% of trips to the Sydney CBD and 63% to Melbourne’s CBD were on public transport. So, while travel volumes may remain well below pre-pandemic levels for some time, road traffic is recovering faster than other travel modes.

Sydney’s and Brisbane’s road traffic volumes have already returned largely to pre-pandemic levels even while most CBD offices remain empty. Melbourne isn’t far behind. Returning commuters are in for a shock.


Apple Mobility Trends

Apple Mobility Trends

Apple Mobility Trends



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What can we do about it?

Several commentators suggest now may be the time to apply congestion pricing – charging a fee to use roads in peak periods. However, when many people are making travel decisions based on the health risks, such policy may not produce the desired behaviour change.




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The alternative is to improve commuters’ public transport options, rather than trying to price congestion away. The aim should be to allow it to operate more effectively while still providing room for on-board social distancing.

This is no easy task, yet it may be politically and technically easier than rapidly bringing in a comprehensive road-pricing regime. Even with social distancing restrictions, public transport will use roads more efficiently than private cars.

This photo shows how much road space cars, buses and cyclists require to transport an equivalent number of people.
Cycling Promotion Fund/We Ride Australia

The return to work must be gradual and supported by considerable flexibility in working hours. This will help manage peak demands. But on its own it’s not enough if frequent public transport services continue to be offered only during a limited commuter peak.

More services, more often

So, public transport services need to run at high frequencies for many more hours in the day. Some analysts suggest services be run at peak frequencies for most of the day.

Many suburban bus services, particularly direct services along arterial roads, should run much more often than their existing peak offerings. Routes can be tweaked to remove unnecessary detours that lead to slow travel times.




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These frequent, direct services should be supported by rigorous cleaning, visual guidance to maintain separation on platforms and within vehicles, and tools to help identify crowded vehicles.

Most importantly, we need to rapidly create “pop-up” dedicated bus lanes right across metropolitan areas. These lanes allow buses to avoid being held up by increasing traffic volumes. Although bus lanes may reduce capacity for private vehicles, when buses run frequently they are a much more efficient use of scarce road space.

Faster travel times for public transport would, in turn, mean operators could deliver more frequent services with existing fleets and drivers. This would reduce the operational cost of allowing for social distancing.




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Frequent services on these pop-up corridors will provide a critical, time-competitive alternative to driving. Although not without its challenges, implementing a fast and frequent bus network is conceptually straightforward and the cost is modest compared to the congestion impacts it could offset.

This solution will require a nimble and co-operative approach from state and local transport authorities and private operators. Success will mean our transit-centred CBDs and district centres continue to function efficiently.

In the longer term, a fast and frequent metropolitan transit network will leave a lasting positive legacy, supporting carbon reduction and city-shaping investments such as Sydney’s Metro and Brisbane’s Cross River Rail. Failure will lead to crippling congestion that erodes the economic and social strength of our previously vibrant cities.The Conversation

Iain Lawrie, PhD Candidate, University of Melbourne and John Stone, Senior Lecturer in Transport Planning, University of Melbourne

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Should I wear a mask on public transport?



Shutterstock

Hassan Vally, La Trobe University

As restrictions ease, many Australians will be wondering if it’s worth wearing a mask on the bus, train or tram to reduce their risk of being infected with coronavirus.

When Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth was asked about this earlier this week, he said:

If you are a vulnerable person and you have no other means of getting to work or around, it would be a very reasonable thing to do. We don’t think that general, healthy members of the community need to be considering wearing masks in that context.

Earlier, Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy said wearing masks on public transport “is not an unreasonable thing to do”.

But the National Cabinet has stopped short of making wearing masks on public transport compulsory. No wonder it can all seem a bit confusing.

So what does fresh evidence say about the benefits of healthy people wearing masks in public? And how do you use this to decide what to do?




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Yes, wearing a mask does reduce your risk

Until now, the evidence about whether wearing a mask out and about if you’re healthy reduces your risk of coronavirus infection has been uncertain.

But a recent review in The Lancet changes that. As expected, the researchers found wearing masks protected health-care workers against coronavirus infection. But they also found wearing masks protects healthy people in the community, although possibly to a lesser degree.

The researchers said the difference in the protective effect was largely because health workers are more likely to use N95 masks, which were found to offer greater protection than the disposable surgical masks we generally see people wearing out in the community.




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So, the take-home message is that masks, while not offering perfect protection, reduce your risk of coronavirus infection while you’re out and about.

In light of this study, the World Health Organisation (WHO) has updated its advice to recommend healthy people wear masks in public where there is widespread transmission and where physical distancing is difficult, such as on public transport.

But how is this different to what I’ve heard before?

What this Lancet study adds is the best evidence we have so far that healthy people who wear a mask out and about can reduce their chance of infection.

It’s important to stress, the evidence is quite clear that if you’re sick, wearing a mask reduces your risk of transmitting the coronavirus to others.

If you’re sick or have been diagnosed with COVID-19 the clear advice is still to stay home and self-isolate. You shouldn’t be on public transport anyway!

If you’re sick, you shouldn’t be on public transport. The only exception is if you need to go out to get tested.
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Masks also protect others

But how about the other possible benefit of wearing masks on public transport – minimising the risk of you unwittingly transmitting the virus to others if you don’t have symptoms?

Despite some confusing messages from WHO earlier this week, we know “asymptomatic transmission” does occur, although we are yet to pin down its exact role.

For instance, a recent review suggests as many as 40-45% of coronavirus infections are asymptomatic and they may transmit the virus to others for an extended period.

So, preventing asymptomatic transmission is another reason you may choose to wear a mask. That is, rather than wearing a mask to protect yourself, you could wear a mask to protect others.




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So, what should I do?

Given masks reduce your risk of infection and reduce the risk of you unwittingly passing on the virus to others, you could certainly make a case for routinely wearing a mask on public transport while we have coronavirus in the community.

This case is even stronger if you are at risk of severe illness, for example if you are over 65 years old or have an underlying medical condition such as high blood pressure, heart disease or diabetes.




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Alternatively, if you are travelling on a short trip on a train and you have plenty of room to social distance, then you may decide wearing a mask may not be essential given the level of risk on that journey.

However, if you are on a longer commute and the train is crowded and social distancing is difficult, then wearing a mask could well be sensible.

If you do decide to wear a mask, then it’s important to make sure you know how to put it on and take it off correctly. And as no mask offers complete protection, you still need to physically distance where possible and wash your hands.




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The Conversation


Hassan Vally, Associate Professor, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Sun, sand and uncertainty: the promise and peril of a Pacific tourism bubble



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Regina Scheyvens, Massey University and Apisalome Movono, Massey University

Pacific nations have largely avoided the worst health effects of COVID-19, but its economic impact has been devastating. With the tourism tap turned off, unemployment has soared while GDP has plummeted.

In recent weeks, Fiji Airways laid off 775 employees and souvenir business Jack’s of Fiji laid off 500. In Vanuatu 70% of tourism workers have lost their jobs. Cook Islands is estimated to have experienced a 60% drop in GDP in the past three months.

In response, many are calling for the Pacific to be included in the proposed trans-Tasman travel corridor. Such calls have come from tourism operators, politicians and at least one health expert.

Quarantine concerns aside, there is economic logic to this. Australians and New Zealanders make up more than 50% of travellers to the region. Some countries are massively dependent: two-thirds of visitors to Fiji and three-quarters of visitors to Cook Islands are Aussies and Kiwis.




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Cook Islands has budgeted NZ$140 million for economic recovery, but this will increase the tiny nation’s debt. Prime Minister Henry Puna has argued for a limited tourism bubble as soon as New Zealand relaxes its COVID-19 restrictions to alert level 1. Cook Islands News editor Jonathan Milne estimates 75-80% of the population is “desperate to get the tourists back”.

A Pacific bubble would undoubtedly help economic recovery. But this merely highlights how vulnerable these island economies have become. Tourism accounts for between 10% and 70% of GDP and up to one in four jobs across the South Pacific.

The pressure to reopen borders is understandable. But we argue that a tourism bubble cannot be looked at in isolation. It should be part of a broader strategy to diversify economies and enhance linkages (e.g. between agriculture and tourism, to put more local food on restaurant menus), especially in those countries that are most perilously dependent on tourism.

Over-dependence on tourism is a trap

Pacific nations such as Vanuatu and Fiji have recovered quickly from past crises such as the GFC, cyclones and coups because of the continuity of tourism. COVID-19 has turned that upside down.

People are coping in the short term by reviving subsistence farming, fishing and bartering for goods and services. Many are still suffering, however, due to limited state welfare systems.

In Fiji’s case, the government has taken the drastic step of allowing laid-off or temporarily unemployed workers to withdraw from their superannuation savings in the National Provident Fund. Retirement funds have also been used to lend FJ$53.6 million to the struggling national carrier, Fiji Airways.




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Fiji has taken on more debt to cope. Its debt-to-GDP ratio, which ideally should sit below 40% for developing economies, has risen from 48.9% before the pandemic to 60.9%. It’s likely to increase further.

High debt, lack of economic diversity and dependence on tourism put the Fijian economy in a very vulnerable position. Recovery will take a long time, probably requiring assistance from the country’s main trading partners. In the meantime, Fiji is pinning hopes on joining a New Zealand-Australia travel bubble.

Rarotonga International Airport: three-quarters of visitors are Aussies and Kiwis.
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Out of crisis comes opportunity

Supporting Pacific states to recover is an opportunity for New Zealand and Australia to put their respective Pacific Reset and Step-Up policies into practice. If building more reciprocal, equitable relationships with Pacific states is the goal, now is the time to ensure economic recovery also strengthens their socio-economic, environmental and political infrastructures.

Economic well-being within the Pacific region is already closely linked to New Zealand and Australia through seasonal workers in horticulture and viticulture, remittance payments, trade and travel. But for many years there has been a major trade imbalance in favour of New Zealand and Australia. Shifting that balance beyond the recovery phase will involve facilitating long-term resilience and sustainable development in the region.

A good place to start would be the recent United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific report on recovering from COVID-19. Its recommendations include such measures as implementing social protection programs, integrating climate action into plans to revive economies, and encouraging more socially and environmentally responsible businesses.

This is about more than altruism – enlightened self-interest should also drive the New Zealand and Australian agenda. Any longer-term economic downturn in the South Pacific, due in part to over-reliance on tourism, could lead to instability in the region. There is a clear link between serious economic crises and social unrest.




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At a broader level, the pandemic is already entrenching Chinese regional influence: loans from China make up 62% of Tonga’s total foreign borrowing; for Vanuatu the figure is 43%; for Samoa 39%.

China is taking the initiative through what some call “COVID-19 diplomacy”. This involves funding pandemic stimulus packages and offering aid and investment throughout the Pacific, including drafting a free trade agreement with Fiji.

That is not to say Chinese investment in Pacific economies won’t do good. Rather, it is an argument for thinking beyond the immediate benefits of a travel bubble. By realigning their development priorities, Australia and New Zealand can help the Pacific build a better, more sustainable future.The Conversation

Regina Scheyvens, Professor of Development Studies, Massey University and Apisalome Movono, Senior Lecturer in Development Studies, Massey University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

As coronavirus restrictions ease, here’s how you can navigate public transport as safely as possible


Hassan Vally, La Trobe University

As coronavirus restrictions continue to ease, one of the key challenges we face is how to deal with people moving around a lot more.

In particular, as more of us start to head back to school and the office in the coming weeks and months, more of us will be getting on buses, trains and trams.

So what is public transport going to look like as we relax restrictions, and how can we navigate this safely?




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Workplaces can help

Victorian premier Daniel Andrews has emphasised working from home will be one of the last measures the state will ease.

But even when restrictions are relaxed, do we all need to go into the office as much as we used to?

Working from home has become the “new normal” for many of us, and we’ve learnt a lot about how to do this successfully. Employers have adjusted too, with some indicating they will encourage increased remote working moving forward.

So one of the obvious things we can do to reduce the numbers of people using public transport is to continue to work from home where possible.




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Another option is for workplaces to implement flexible start times. If we can reduce the numbers of people using public transport during peak times, this will make a significant difference in reducing crowding.

Public transport providers and governments

State governments have introduced additional cleaning practices on public transport networks. These will continue, and may even be increased, as more people return to public transport.

Although increased cleaning is important, physical distancing remains the key to safely moving large numbers of people again. Governments will need to consider some changes to ensure people can keep a safe distance from others on their commute.

Many people touch the same surfaces on public transport.
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As we’ve seen with the easing of restrictions, different states will take different approaches.

For example, New South Wales has imposed limits on how many people can board a bus or train. A maximum of 32 people are allowed in a train carriage (normally one carriage holds 123 passengers), while buses are limited to 12 passengers (capacity is normally 63).

Further, markings on the seats and floors of buses and trains indicate where people can sit and stand.

Marshals are also being stationed around the public transport network to ensure commuters are following the rules.

In a similar move, the South Australian government revealed they will remove seats from Adelaide trains.




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In contrast, Queensland is not imposing any passenger limits, instead asking commuters to use their common sense. The government says there is plenty of room on public transport in Queensland at present, and the risk of virus transmission is low given the small number of active cases.

Similarly, Victoria has not imposed passenger limits. But the government has indicated commuters will be able to access information about which public transport services are the least crowded to assist travel planning.

Some states have flagged extra services may be needed to avoid overcrowding, though the extent to which this will be possible is dependent on resources.

In addition to extra services, NSW has indicated it will boost car parking and enhance access for cyclists and pedestrians.

What can you do?

The main responsibility around keeping virus transmission suppressed as we relax restrictions rests with us as individuals to behave sensibly and responsibly.

The same principles apply when we use public transport as when we navigate all public spaces.

Maintaining physical distance from others and washing our hands regularly are possibly even more important when we’re using public transport, given we potentially come into contact with a lot of people in an enclosed space.

We know SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, is more likely to spread indoors than outdoors. We also know prolonged contact with someone infected with the virus increases the risk of transmission, as compared to a passing encounter.

So public transport commutes have the potential to pose a significant risk of virus transmission, especially if you’re sitting next to an infected person on a long journey.

Masks are a hot topic.
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Taking hand sanitiser when you use public transport is a good idea so you can clean your hands while travelling. You may be touching contaminated surfaces, for example the bars and handles for balance.

In addition, washing your hands thoroughly with soap as soon as you arrive at your destination should become a part of your routine.

Importantly, if you’re sick you should not be leaving the house, let alone taking public transport or going to work.

What about masks?

Wearing a mask on public transport is an issue of personal preference.

But if you choose to wear a mask, it’s important to understand a couple of things.

First, masks need to be put on and taken off correctly so you don’t inadvertently infect yourself in the process.

And while masks potentially offer some additional protection to you and others, it’s still critical to follow physical distancing and other hygiene measures.




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The Conversation


Hassan Vally, Associate Professor, La Trobe University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Coronavirus recovery: public transport is key to avoid repeating old and unsustainable mistakes



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Hussein Dia, Swinburne University of Technology

The coronavirus pandemic has affected our cities in profound ways. People adapted by teleworking, shopping locally and making only necessary trips. One of the many challenges of recovery will be to build on the momentum of the shift to more sustainable practices – and transport will be a particular challenge.

Reductions in trips from January to May, measured by change in trip routing requests.
Apple Maps COVID-19 Mobility Trends



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While restrictions are being eased, many measures in place today, including physical distancing and limits on group numbers, will remain for some time. As people try to avoid crowded spaces, public transport patronage will suffer. Thousands of journeys a day will need to be completed by other means.

If people switch from public transport to cars, road congestion will be even worse than before, emissions will soar, air quality will be poor and road safety will suffer.

The capacity of mixed vehicle traffic is much lower than most people realise.
International Transport Forum, OECD. Data from Botma and Papandrecht 1991 and GIZ calculations 2009; CAV = connected and automated vehicles, BRT = bus rapid transit. Source: Synergine for Auckland Transport 2015, adapted from ADB and GIZ 2011; Shladover, Su and Lu 2012

Re-imagining our cities

Cities are repurposing streets to meet higher demands for walking and cycling.

But not everyone can walk or ride a scooter or bike to their destination. Public transport must remain at the heart of urban mobility.

We will have to rethink public transport design to enable physical distancing, even though it reduces capacities.

Impact of physical distancing on public transport capacity.
International Transport Forum, OECD

Public transport drivers need protection. Some responses such as boarding from back doors and sanitising rolling stock are needed but don’t reduce crowding. Crowding at platforms, bus and tram stops also has to be avoided.




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Crowding on public transport puts lives at risk. A recent study that looked at smartcard data for the Metro in Washington DC showed that, with the same passenger demand as before the pandemic, only three initially infected passengers will lead to 55% of the passenger population being infected within 20 days. This would have alarming consequences.

More measures are needed. There are things we need to stop doing or start doing, and others that need to happen sooner.

Increasing capacities by running more services, where possible, will help. Staggering work hours will reduce peak demand. Transport demand management must also aim to reduce overall need for travel by having people continue to work from home if they can.




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Managing passenger flow and decreasing waiting times will also help avoid crowding. Passenger-counting technologies can be used to monitor passenger load restrictions, control flow and stagger ridership.

Passenger-counting technologies can be used to monitor and manage flows.

We need to start trying new solutions using smart technologies. Passengers could use apps that let them find out how crowded a service is before boarding, or to book a seat in advance.

Other solutions to trial include thermal imaging at train stations and bus depots to identify passengers with fever. There will be many technical and deployment challenges, but trials can identify issues and ease the transition.

One solution for transport hubs is thermal imaging technology that detects passengers who have a fever.
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We need to accelerate digitalisation and automation of public transport. This includes solutions for contactless operations, automated train doors and passenger safety across the whole journey.

Public transport also has to be expanded and diversified to be effective in dense areas and deliver social value to residents. In some areas, it may function as a demand-responsive service and be more agile in its ability to transport people safely and quickly.




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Improving resilience

The lessons we have learnt about adapting how we live and work should guide recovery efforts. The recovery must improve the resilience of public transport.

Infrastructure investments, which are crucial for rebuilding the economy, must target projects that protect against future threats. Public transport will need reliable financial investment to provide quality of service and revive passenger confidence.




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The pandemic has shown how fragile urban systems like public transport are in the face of acute stresses.
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Importantly, the harm this pandemic is causing has not been equitable. The most vulnerable and the most disadvantaged have been hit hardest by both its health and economic impacts.

While many people are able to work from home, staying at home remains a luxury many others cannot afford. People who need to return to work must be able to rely on safe public transport.




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Building on momentum

By the time the lockdown is over, many of our old habits will have changed. The notion that we need to leave home to work every day has been challenged. The new habits emerging today, if sustained, could help us solve tricky problems like traffic congestion and accessibility, which have challenged our cities for a long time.

If there’s one principle that should underpin recovery efforts, it should be to make choices today that in future we’d want us to have made. If driving becomes an established new habit, congestion will spike and persist, as will greenhouse gas emissions. Faced with these kinds of challenges, rash “business as usual” measures and behaviours will not protect us from this emergency or future crises.

Cities that seize this moment and boost investment in social infrastructure will enter the post-coronavirus world stronger, more equitable and more resilient.

Let us commit to shaping a recovery that rebuilds lives and promotes equality and sustainability. By building on sustainable practices and a momentum of behavioural change, we can avoid repeating the unsustainable mistakes of the past.The Conversation

Hussein Dia, Professor of Future Urban Mobility, Swinburne University of Technology

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.