New research finds COVID-19 may change future of transport

Research from The University of Western Australia has found the COVID-19 environment, which has created a less mobile and more digitally focused workforce, has changed people’s travel behaviour and may impact their use of transport into the future.

The COVID-19 lockdown instigated fundamental changes to human activity and mobility patterns, brought about by adjustments to national and state regulations. 

In Australia, the lockdown has led to a significant drop in the use of public transport and cars, however walking and cycling, particularly in Western Australia, have risen in popularity as a mode of transport.  

Associate Professor Doina Olaru from UWA’s Business School carried out a survey of more than 800 adults Australia-wide, exploring their travel behaviour during lockdown and views on future work and travel.

Those surveyed used a combination of transport modes, however the majority travelled by car with less than 10 per cent using public transport during the lockdown period.

On average, respondents were significantly more afraid to travel on public transport than in a private car and slightly more reluctant to travel on public transport compared to shared vehicles, such as taxis or rideshare.

Associate Professor Olaru said those surveyed in Western Australia did not experience a significant reduction in mobility, nor completely exchanged travel to the workplace by telecommuting.

“About half of the respondents enjoyed working from home more than their usual place of employment, but only a third anticipated permanent changes to work practices post COVID-19,” Associate Professor Olaru said. 

“We also noticed differences by state, with only 27 per cent of WA participants considering that their employers would be more likely to facilitate telecommuting in the future compared to 41 per cent of the respondents in Victoria, NSW, ACT and Queensland.”

Associate Professor Olaru said while most respondents believed telecommuting could be a practical alternative to being in the workplace, its uptake depended on the extent to which employers would opt to continue with the measures.

“This is primarily linked to organisational culture and employers’ reluctance to facilitate longer-term working from home measures, without evidence of productivity gains,” she said.

“Different forms of telecommuting arrangements could affect future transport use in various ways, for example flattening the congestion at peak times by staggering start times, or applying a minimum uptake of telecommuting and making sure this is not the same day of the week for all employees.”

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