2021TPM and the COVID-19 Recovery

Nick Richardson – Technical Principal, Mott MacDonald and Chair, PTRC

The pandemic has disrupted just about everything over the past year.  Some areas of transport have taken a bashing while others have become more prominent.  A greater emphasis on walking and cycling has played out while passengers have largely deserted trains and buses.  Survival and recovery are very much the new order, helped by large injections of government funding and the hope that normality will be restored. 

More probably, going back to what went before will not be the best response to changing work behaviours, different ways of shopping, socialising and the many other aspects of life that have changed. 

On the plus side, the environment has benefitted from reductions in traffic and far fewer flights than before.  It has allowed us to imagine what it would be like if travel behaviour changed permanently.  We now have a window of opportunity to re-think how and why people and goods move around, the pressures having increased as we edge towards the aim of a zero emission world.  However, we remain a long way from achieving anything like the scale of change needed to genuinely reduce environmental damage.

This year’s TPM, also online following last year’s success, will consider the new order that we should be aspiring to, what has changed and what should have changed.  TPM provides an opportunity to learn, debate and discuss topics that matter.  We have discovered that online events reach a far wider audience than traditional gatherings which has diluted the concept of locality or region because everything has the potential to be global. 

Discovering that many businesses can keep going without meeting their customers is revelatory but we need to remember those jobs that can’t be sustained from homes and need human contact.  Our approaches to social interaction will be different: no shaking hands, no presumption that ‘real’ meetings are necessary and learning to talk to a screen without seeing anyone’s reactions are all part of the migration to digital.  All of these contribute to the demand for travel (and electricity) and it remains to be seen how this will settle down; perhaps there will be further pandemics or global crises but there are no certainties for transport.

I have presented papers at TPM for a number of years and this time I will be considering post-pandemic bus services.  There will be many other presentations on a wide range of stimulating themes and I hope that you will join us to listen, share and challenge.

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