SWARCO | Utilising micro mobility during and post COVID-19
The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and global lockdown has had an enormous impact on how we live our lives, as well as affecting all industries and sectors, forcing big changes in procedures and regulations.
The UK’s transport and mobility sector has faced a number of significant challenges since the pandemic, and
operations have had to be adapted throughout lockdown. The initial government advice back in March was to avoid travelling and limit the use of transport as much as possible, and with the majority of people working from home, use of public transport such as buses and trains was significantly reduced. As the weeks and months have progressed, with updated guidance from government and a gradual lifting of restrictions which see people returning to their places of work, public transport usage has begun to increase again.
However, with strict health and safety measures in place – such as mandatory face masks/coverings when travelling on trains and buses, using only contactless payment and observing social distancing – many are still cautious and continue to avoid it, opting to use alternate methods for essential journeys. As well as walking, the use and uptake of micro mobility vehicles such as bicycles and electric scooters and is steadily increasing, and this is something that should be encouraged and developed further as we adapt through this situation towards a ‘new normal’ post Covid-19.
There are both pros and cons to the use and adoption of micro mobility vehicles. Electric scooters, in particular, have received substantial negative press, with numerous images circulating online of rental or pay-as-you-go scooters – and indeed rental bikes – creating obstacles after being left abandoned in the middle of roads or on public pavements. There have also been instances of reckless behaviour, causing danger to both users themselves and pedestrians.
Micro mobility solutions can, however, bring a significant amount to the table in terms of creating a better flow in a city’s traffic, providing an alternative form of transportation and, crucially, lowering emissions. It is still in its infancy and growing, but using micro mobility on a large scale still needs to mature, develop and be optimised in order to become a fully integrated and effective part of a town or city.
The main, initial purpose of micro mobility vehicles was to fill in the gaps in a city’s traffic infrastructure, also known as the ‘First/Last mile challenge’. This is where commuters aren’t located near suitable public transport and therefore take the car for relatively short distances, furthering problems within urban areas and cities regarding traffic congestion, parking problems and auto emissions. As well as offering a viable alternative for the first and last mile for commuters, micro mobility can now play a part in social distancing and reducing the potential for overcrowding on public transport and roads.
Priority and Protection
Despite the easing of lockdown, ensuring pedestrian safety is still crucial. Hygiene is a key factor of this, and government advice remains for everyone to avoid touching anything outside. Minimising touch points is essential in the ongoing fight against COVID-19 transmission, and I wonder how many of us are already now thinking twice about pressing the ‘wait’ button at a pedestrian crossing?
But contactless traffic lights are a viable solution to this problem. Contactless systems, such as SWARCO’s motion detection traffic lights for example, are being developed to detect when a person is waiting at the lights so there is no need to touch anything, using a highly intelligent and reliable sensor. Similarly, traffic controllers can be reprogrammed to cater for the increased footfall, and more people using crossings, by allocating more time for crossing and less time to road vehicles. This in turn helps to avoid pedestrians bunching together as more walkers, runners and scooters wait for the ‘green man’.
Similarly, when it’s considered how many more people may be opting to cycle, they can be given more priority at junctions with the use of cycle signals. These signals can be programmed to avoid overcrowding at junctions, making cycle journeys easier and safer and therefore a more attractive method for people looking to avoid public transport.
It’s unclear exactly what the long-term impact of COVID-19 will be just yet, but what is known is that micro mobility was already on the rise. The indicators are that more people will be embracing it, at least in the short-term, and if they can help to facilitate the ease of use of micro mobility then they have a chance to encourage people to keep on using it and increase uptake – and ultimately having a bigger impact on air quality.
For more information about SWARCO please visit: www.swarco.com