Until now, we have experienced a continuous increase in the demand for mobility. In France, pre-crisis estimates predicted that demand would double by 2050, even warning of the need for new transport infrastructure to meet this endless pressure.
And here is this mobility, vector of our economic growth and indicator of the dynamism of our societies, stopped in its tracks: general immobility is imposed to curb the curve of propagation of the virus. Airports closed, rail services minimal, streets deserted, travel limited to a radius of 1km … road traffic down 80% and the entire sector restricted for 3 months to ensure only the vital functions of the nation as the movement of health personnel or the supply of basic necessities.
If a return to normalcy is currently taking place, we must ask ourselves what will constitute this new normal tomorrow?
It is possible that these three months have not been enough to bring about lasting changes in the master plans that governed pre-crisis mobility demand. If the pre-crisis fundamentals are still present and the same solutions proposed, the changes in behavior observed today will only be temporary.
In contrast to this trend, as every crisis represents a real opportunity for evolution, it is possible that we will see a paradigm shift, a new normal shaped by immobility which would act as a vector of territorial growth and would witness a real redistribution of activity to the benefit of territories and local circuits. The generalization of telework in some sectors would facilitate this trend, as illustrated by the measures taken by the PSA group.
It is likely that the situation towards which we are moving is a hybrid of these two visions. For large urban areas, certain behavioral changes, such as the distrust of public transport and its promiscuity, will affect mobility patterns over varying time scales. In urban centers, this could result in widespread deployment of new mobility, accelerated by the combined effect of new bicycle lanes and the appearance of new long-term bicycle rental services. The ecological awakening triggered by this crisis – which probably foreshadows others – is also pushing users towards these sustainable mobility solutions. If demand follows, it is likely that these facilities will remain in place. In the periphery, however, the current resurgence of the private car for inner-city and outer-city trips may be balanced with public transport once health constraints are relaxed, with the balance being driven primarily by commuter travel times.
The opportunities for sustainable change are few and far between, and the temptation to address the immediate impacts of this crisis with a short-term vision is strong. The window of opportunity is limited to implement new orientations towards a new, more virtuous normal, of which decarbonized mobility would be one of the pillars. For the changes to be sustainable, incentives and nudges will have to influence behavior before nature takes over…