Delivering transport solutions during periods of restricted movement

As the Government instructs people to avoid all non-essential travel, Kevin Kay, Director at RPS looks at how the reduction in travel demand could impact future trends and how, during this interim period, alternative techniques can help minimise the disruption to the assessment of development or infrastructure projects.  


26 Mar 2020

The Government’s response to COVID-19 has significant implications on the way people move around. In turn, this will affect how representative current transport conditions are in informing a range of technical assessments including transport planning, air quality, acoustics and economics. While these effects are being felt in the short-term, they may also influence future travel trends.

Short-term implications

The immediate reduction in overall travel demand is an obvious consequence of the political interventions taken to date by many countries, leading to decreases in commuting journeys, as well as school trips for the majority of families. The closure of retail facilities as well as restaurants and leisure facilities will also significantly affect daily travel habits.

These are important factors because transport policy and decisions on new infrastructure are developed from an understanding of baseline situations, with forecasts using this information to determine the relative impacts of schemes or developments. The outcome to date has been for planning and transport authorities to caution against any traffic surveys carried out from mid-March 2020 onwards, as they would not be representative of typical conditions.

In response and to mitigate the effects of these constraints on technical assessments and project programmes, our Transport & Engineering colleagues are adopting different approaches to help minimise project disruption and help progress developments.

  1. Our data analysis expertise means we can make the most of public databases as well as engage with third-party providers. A variety of historical traffic data can be used to provide an indication of travel trends, adopting suitable factors to establish baseline and/or future conditions.
  2. Many authorities will maintain an up-to-date traffic model, which can be used to derive traffic data for use in technical assessments. While these may benefit from later validation following the disruption, our expertise in modelling will allow projects to remain ahead of the game;
  3. With more people at home, the current situation creates opportunities for greater engagement with households to help source alternative data on travel behaviours through questionnaire surveys.

Looking to the future

When travel restrictions begin to lift and we start to return to normal, the impact of the pandemic may result in several changes to longer-term travel trends.

Individual remote working adjustments, including holding meetings remotely will have encouraged many to invest in home working and others to embrace the associated technologies, which may impact on future commuting behaviours.

The period of sequestration will also have encouraged people to make conscious decisions about what constitutes ‘essential’ and ‘non-essential’ travel, empowering people to make more informed choices. This may also influence people’s perceived ‘value of time’ which is a metric used in various transport models and appraisals to estimate the benefits of transport schemes.

The way we navigate around cities may also change profoundly, increasing walking and cycling and affecting how mass transit options such as buses are viewed, as well new forms of mobility (e.g. ride sharing). Physical distancing may re-enforce the value of social contact, influencing how people use streets and spaces in the future, and in turn elevating the role of public realm design in promoting the benefits of congregation and sense of community.

How can we help

Our transport and engineering team have the expertise to apply alternative techniques in deriving suitable baseline data in the face of current restrictions to movements, working collaboratively with transport authorities to resolve the complex issues around travel demand.

Early engagement is critical, and we are available to assist clients to progress development and infrastructure projects while minimising programme delays.  Get in touch to discuss how we can help to ensure that your projects can keep progressing during these challenging times.


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